The Auckland authorities have turned to dogs in an effort to stamp out a deadly fungal disease that is threatening the nation’s ancient kauri trees.
Known as kauri dieback, the fungus that can be spread by as little as a pinhead of soil on the sole of a hiker’s boots or an animal’s paw. Since it was first diagnosed in 2008 it has put the survival of kauri trees at risk.
There is no cure, and stopping the disease from spreading is the only known way to save what remains of the species.
Pip and Mawhai lend a sensitive nose
Now the Auckland Council has roped in a four-year old English springer spaniel named Pip and five-year-old jagdterrier named Mawhai to lend their sensitive noses to the cause.
The pair has been training for a year to sniff out the fungus and authorities say that what used to be a six-week process to test and confirm the disease can now take place in a matter of seconds using Pip and Mawhai.
Speaking to the Guardian Australia newspaper, Kerryn Johnson, a biosecurity adviser for Auckland Council, said the dogs were the first in the world able to sniff out kauri dieback.
Dogs sniffing soil samples from bush
“We’ve now got two dogs who we are really confident testing soil samples taken from the bush and sniffing out kauri dieback disease,” said Johnson.
“We’re still working out how sensitive they are, what kind of threshold the pathogen has to be in the soil sample for the dog to pick it up … we’re still figuring how out best to deploy them.”
Kauri trees are of deep spiritual and historic significance to the Māori people. They live for more than 1,000 years and the oldest known tree is around 2,500 years old. They can grow to a height of about 50 metres and have a circumference of around 13 metres.