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Sniffer dogs successfully detect sick trees

2012/05/23 21:29:46

Taipei, May 23 (CNA) Sniffer dogs trained by a university in southern Taiwan successfully sniffed out brown root rot disease in trees Wednesday, a feat that the trainer described as unprecedented anywhere else in the world.

Brown root rot disease, caused by phellinus noxius, was reported to be affecting trees in Chung Shan Park, Pingtung County, in the south of the country. The park officials then asked National Pingtung University of Science and Technology to use its trained dogs to help find out exactly how many trees were infected.

Chi Wei-lien, the dogs' trainer, brought two beagles to the park that morning and led them around each tree. When the dogs detected a sick tree, they would sit down on the infected roots and wait for Chi to give them food treats as a reward.

"Within only six seconds, the dogs were able to sniff out the location of the brown root rot," Chi said, adding that there have been no reported cases from abroad of using sniffer dogs to detect brown root rot disease.

He explained that the idea came from the dogs used by truffle hunters to sniff out the valuable underground fungus. From this, he correctly inferred that every type of fungi, including phellinus noxius, has a distinct scent.

He then started training three beagle bitches aged around five, using phellinus noxius grown in the lab. Vigor and a fondness for eating are the basic requirements for selecting dogs suitable for the task, he said.

With over 1,000 trees in the park, Chi said he expected to take about three days to finish examining all the trees.

Pingtung Magistrate Tsao Chi-hung also went to the park to find out how many trees were infected with the disease. He noted that the sick trees must be brought down in case they collapse suddenly upon people using the park.

Officials from the county's Public Works Department expressed hope that the dogs will help them find out which trees are infected before the disease runs rampant in the park.

(By Kuo Chu-chen and Nell Shen)