Judging committee members Abdullah Abdullah Jidam, (left), Hamad Saif Al Mazroui, (right), and Mohammad Ali Al Aryani look at dates at the festival. Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Sniffer dogs specially trained to detect insects deadly to trees — including the date palm — successfully demonstrated their skills at the sixth annual Liwa Date Festival.

It was two years ago that the sniffer dog team was set up, and the Al Ain branch of the Abu Dhabi Police Sniffer Dogs Section had the chance to show off their expertise at the popular event.

The festival has been held under the patronage of Shaikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, and organised by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage.

Abu Dhabi Police representative Ahmad Ali Al Darmaki said: "This was initiated in 2008 as an experiment to see how successfully dogs can detect the red palm weevil and similar insects that burrow into date palm trees and destroy them.

"We have six trained German shepherds, each with their handler… It took us about three to six months to train them before trying them out at farms to see how successfully they can detect the insects," Al Darmaki said.

The police representative said red palm weevils were considered to be the deadliest of the insects that house in palm trees because of their rapid mobility and the large number of eggs they laid in each tree.

"The red palm weevil lays approximately 400 eggs every time it nests in a palm tree and it can easily jump from one tree to another, which means it can damage a lot of trees in a period of time," Al Darmaki said.

"The dogs successfully sniff out approximately 80 to 90 trees a day at distances up to 100 metres… The most we ever examined was when the team was sent to sniff out 600 trees in one of the farms of the Foaa Farms Development." The emirate of Abu Dhabi has a total of about 600,000 date palm trees.

The red palm weevil is most active during winter.

"At first, we were told this wouldn't work and that other countries have tried and failed to combat this menace," Al Darmaki said.

"But over the past two years, we have successfully displayed the advantage of having such teams deployed to date palm farms." Al Darmaki said they were willing to send their team to other emirates to showcase their technique and train other teams.

They also hoped to obtain an international certificate in recognition of their skills, he said.

Getting there: Schedule

- What: Liwa Date Festival

-  When: Saturday, July 17 - Monday, July 26

- Time: 10am - 10pm

- Travel: Buses leave from Abu Dhabi Mall and Marina Mall at 9am. There are no other scheduled buses.

-  Information: For schedules and further information, please contact 02-6576094 or visit www.liwadatesfestival.ae or http://www.adach.ae/en/