With a face like a turkey, a blood-red head, big beady eyes and large curved beak, Sherlock the vulture is no oil painting.

But police in Germany are hoping the bird could be the latest, low-tech weapon in their armoury: they want to harness Sherlock's incredible sense of smell to locate the dead bodies that sniffer dogs can't reach.

They want to attach global positioning system (GPS) tracking devices to Sherlock and get him to find the corpses of people who have disappeared in remote areas.

“It was a colleague of mine who got the idea from watching a nature programme,” policeman Rainer Herrmann told AFP.

“If it works, time could be saved when looking for dead bodies because the birds can cover a much vaster area than sniffer dogs or humans.

Birds generally rely mostly on sight to locate their supper. But vultures like Sherlock have a keen sense of smell and are able to detect the scent of rotting flesh from 1,000 metres (3,000 feet) up in the air.

He can even find remains in woodland or in thick undergrowth. And unlike sniffer dogs, who need regular breaks, Sherlock is indefatigable and can cover vast tracts of land. — AFP