In the fight against crime, German police have come up with an innovative idea for a weapon- vultures that can find hidden corpses. Three vulture detectives - called Sherlock, Miss Marple and Columbo - are being trained in Walsrode bird park in northern Germany, a local media reported.

The training initiative is based on the fact that vultures have a keen eyesight and acute sense of smell, which might make them as skillful as their fictional namesakes.

But worryingly Sherlock sometimes prefers to hunt on foot, rather than scan the ground from above, the report said.

According to a German media report, a piece of shroud from a mortuary was used by the cops for the training exercise. The vultures are thought to be better than sniffer dogs at finding bodies when a large area has to be searched and the terrain is difficult, for example if it is densely overgrown.

But then concerns have been raised over the fact that the vultures might attack the dead bodies and start pecking them, a Berliner Morgenpost newspaper says.

This week Miss Marple and Columbo, from a zoo in Austria, joined Sherlock for the exercise in the reserve, north of Hanover. Police are using three birds because the vultures prefer to roam big areas as a group.

The vultures may work much more effectively than sniffer dogs, said a Hanover police officer, Rainer Herrmann. There's a lot of interest in this. We've had inquiries from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, said the report.