The prized olive trees of southern Italy have been suffering for ten years from a deadly and difficult-to-detect disease. They might be saved by a well-trained pack of super-sniffer dogs.
The dog trainer Mario Fortebraccio slowly moves toward a row of potted olive trees on a bright winter morning while gesturing with his hand. Three-year-old white Labrador Paco rushes through the row of plants with his head cocked, sniffing each pot at the root, the rhythm of his inhaling resonating throughout the greenhouse as he waits for that signal. The dog is meticulously searching for something that is invisible to humans.
Fortebraccio grins and says, “If there is no reward, they don’t do anything. Once he had finished, Paco returned to the trainer, lifted his leg to use the restroom next to a plant, wagged his tail, and went for a small crunchy treat.
Paco is looking for Xylella fastidiosa, a type of bacterium that has been decimating southern Italy’s olive fields for the past ten years, at Vivai Giuranna, a sizable commercial greenhouse in Parabita, Puglia, with over one million plants. The elite Xylella Detection Dogs team is made up of Paco and a few other canine associates.