German police train vulture 'detectives' to find bodies

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Vulture with German handler at Walsrode, 26 Apr 10
Image caption,
The vultures' habits are not a perfect fit for the job of detective

German police are trying out a new weapon in the fight against crime - vultures that can find hidden corpses.

Three feathered detectives - called Sherlock, Miss Marple and Columbo - are being trained in Walsrode bird park in northern Germany.

The birds' keen eyesight and acute sense of smell might make them as skilful as their fictional namesakes.

But worryingly Sherlock sometimes prefers to hunt on foot, rather than scan the ground from above.

Police used a piece of shroud from a mortuary for the training exercise, German media report.

The vultures are thought to be better than sniffer dogs at finding bodies when a large area has to be searched and the terrain is difficult, for example if it is densely overgrown.

But the experiment raises ethical concerns because of the risk that a vulture could start pecking at a dead body, the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper says.

This week Miss Marple and Columbo, from a zoo in Austria, joined Sherlock for the exercise in the reserve, north of Hanover.

Police are using three birds because the vultures prefer to roam big areas as a group.

"The vultures may work much more effectively than sniffer dogs," said a Hanover police officer, Rainer Herrmann.

"There's a lot of interest in this. We've had inquiries from Germany, Austria and Switzerland," he said.