updated 8/19/2008 1:49:37 PM ET 2008-08-19T17:49:37

Getting any living thing but yourself past border police at Frankfurt Airport just got tougher.

Amy, a German shepherd, and Uno, a Labrador retriever, have joined the team at one of Europe's busiest airports — the first two dogs in Germany trained to sniff out live animals, plants or derivatives or remains of them.

The three-year-olds' debut is a joint effort between police and the World Wildlife Fund to help stop the illegal but lucrative trade in rare species — which the organization estimates is a $293 billion annual business.

"Dogs simply have the better nose," Volker Homes, the head of species conservation with the WWF's German branch, said Tuesday. They can detect things that emit only a faint odor "and are therefore ideal for the fast checking of luggage, mail and even full containers."

Sniffing out an iguana
Police trainers showed off Amy's talents — letting her out of her cage to run around a row of 15 suitcases, in one of which they had hidden a live iguana borrowed from Frankfurt Zoo.

After sniffing all the luggage carefully, the dog leapt on a gray suitcase in the middle of the row and started barking enthusiastically, tail wagging. Amy stood by as attendants freed the iguana from inside the case.

"After working with border police dogs for 30 years, I'm always surprised at what they can smell," said Dieter Keller, the main dog trainer for the regional border police.

Keller said that in a test last week, Amy's partner Uno found about 4.5 pounds of caviar in a suitcase arriving from Eastern Europe. Non-licensed harvest of sturgeon caviar has been restricted since 1998.

Amy and Uno — who join 30 other specialist dogs at the airport trained to sniff out everything from explosives to tobacco and cash — have been through a 10-week, $30,500 training program.

They have been taught to focus on 16 specific smells including feathers, leathers, reptiles, caviar, coral, ivory and bone. Keller wasn't immediately able to say how much luggage an animal-sniffing dog could cover, but said a drug dog can get through about 2,000 bags in an eight-hour shift.

Illegal trade threatens species' survival
Police will be trying out the dogs for several months before deciding whether to bring in more four-legged detectives.

"I have a mixed heart about it," Keller said. "On the one hand I hope the dogs are very successful and make a lot of finds. On the other hand I hope they send a signal to all the people that are thinking of smuggling, discouraging them from coming through Frankfurt Airport."

WWF's Homes said he hopes the dogs will help prevent incidents of, for example, tourists bringing home an orchid or a crocodile bag from their vacation.

"Smuggling is a serious danger for the survival of threatened species," he said.

Even without the specialist dogs, border police at the airport intercepted protected species — or products derived from them — in 561 cases last year.

They confiscated 6,000 live animals; more than 100,000 living plants; and another 5,350 animals that either died on their journey or were already dead and preserved.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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