Selfish, us? Cats hailed as purrfect rescue animal
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.