- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 13, 2003


MOSCOW — Russia’s only “sniffer cat,” hailed for its success in the campaign against the cut-throat and lucrative world of caviar smuggling, has been run over and killed in what is suspected of being a contract killing.

After wandering hungry into a customs checkpoint as a stray kitten last year, the cat was dubbed Rusik and quickly became the scourge of the Stavropol region’s mafia by hunting out caviar being smuggled from the Caspian Sea to Moscow and the West.

Powerful criminal groups control a caviar black market estimated at $1.6 billion.

“One day Rusik just leaped into the trunk of a passing car at the checkpoint and immediately sniffed out some sturgeon,” police Officer Sergei Kovalenko said of the friendly Siamese cat. “After that, we decided to use him all the time.”

After a year that saw him eclipse local sniffer dogs, Rusik’s prowess was made public last week. It proved to be a fatal error.

Now Rusik is dead, mowed down by a car in which he once had discovered smuggled sturgeon.

Rusik’s demise was the latest blow to Stavropol’s crime fighters. The Siamese used to work alongside another cat called Barsik, Mr. Kovalenko said. But Barsik — which means little snow leopard — died a few weeks ago after eating a poisoned mouse.

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