Tree-sniffing dog awaits HK's bark and call

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 11:23pm


The authorities have yet to respond to a Taiwan-based university's offer to lend Hong Kong a dog trained to sniff out a disease that is killing the city's historic trees.

The dog has been trained by the National Pingtung University of Science and Technology to identify trees infected with brown-root rot, which has infected at least 13 mature trees in Tsim Sha Tsui, Central, Happy Valley, Lei Yue Mun and Tung Chung.

Seven of the trees have already been removed or fallen, official records show, including one which fell onto a bus shelter in a busy shopping street in Tsim Sha Tsui last month.

The fungus that causes the disease, common in Southeast Asia, was first detected in Hong Kong in 2007.

Taiwan has been researching ways to prevent its spread since a serious outbreak in its forests and plantations more than a decade ago. The measures include training a sniffer dog which, according to a tree conservationist, operates like the truffle-sniffing hounds in Europe.

Veterinarian Chi Wei-lien, of the university's working dog training school, said they suggested sending the dog to help out in Hong Kong, but had yet to make a formal proposal.

'We didn't hear from Hong Kong, and the proposal would require co-operation between the Taiwan Forestry Research Institute and an academic institute in Hong Kong,' Chi said.

'The dog we are training is a beagle, which is sociable and has a sensitive nose and good appetite,' Chi said, adding that the dog had achieved an accuracy rate of more than 90 per cent in the laboratory but had so far proven less effective in the countryside.

Hong Kong's Tree Management Office said it had no record of the offer.

Trees Conservation Association council member Lam Tak-chak said the offer was made at a tree-conservation seminar in Hong Kong in December.

'It's like a truffle hunter,' he said of the detective dog. 'Farmers in European countries like France train dogs to sniff out truffles.'

Lam said the government would have to make suitable arrangements to receive the dog.

'It would have to send a staff member to receive training in Taiwan in order to handle the dog properly,' he said. 'The handler must know how to train the dog to remember the smell of the fungus. The dog needs to smell it every two weeks.'

The training of the fungus hunter was widely reported in Taiwan two years ago.


Number of scent receptors in a beagle's nose, many more than a human's nose, which only has about five million