Self­ish, us? Cats hailed as purr­fect res­cue an­i­mal

Taranaki Daily News - - World -

UNITED STATES: The do­mes­tic cat, so long ma­ligned as ir­re­deemably self­ish, could re­place the ger­man shep­herd dog as the ul­ti­mate search and res­cue an­i­mal, sci­en­tists say, thanks to its ad­vanced sense of smell and agility.

Re­searchers de­scribe the ol­fac­tory abil­i­ties of the world’s 600 million cats as a vast un­tapped re­source that could be used to lo­cate sur­vivors af­ter avalanches, earth­quakes or bomb ex­plo­sions, and sniff out drugs and ex­plo­sives at sites such as air­ports.

Though naysay­ers doubt fe­lines could ever be both­ered to un­der­take such risky tasks in re­turn for a chin rub, aca­demics in­sist they can be trained.

While the noses of many dog breeds are sig­nif­i­cantly more pow­er­ful than cats’, re­search in­di­cates the lat­ter have the ad­van­tage when it comes to the vomeronasal or­gan, a sec­ondary ol­fac­tory or­gan on the roof of the mouth that en­ables some an­i­mals to ‘‘taste’’ pheromones and other chem­i­cal stim­uli.

Sci­en­tists have pre­vi­ously sug­gested a cor­re­la­tion be­tween the num­ber of ‘‘V1R’’ re­cep­tor gene vari­ants as­so­ci­ated with this or­gan and the abil­ity to dis­crim­i­nate be­tween odours. Cats have 30 vari­ants, dogs have nine.

Re­searchers from Ore­gon State Univer­sity ar­gue: ‘‘It may be pos­si­ble to train cats for search and res­cue or for other scent-de­tec­tion ap­pli­ca­tions in set­tings where a cat’s phys­i­cal agility or size would make them a su­pe­rior choice.’’

They cite cats’ light weight, climb­ing and bal­anc­ing abil­i­ties, not­ing that gi­ant African pouched rats, which have 120 of the rel­e­vant gene vari­ants, are al­ready used to sniff out land­mines.

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