Govern­ment work­ers sniff­ing out fire ants

Gatton Star - - LIFE | INTO RURAL - — An­drea Davy

THE SNOUT of a trained labrador is more suc­cess­ful at de­tect­ing fire ants than a hu­man could ever be.

Among stalls high­light­ing the lat­est in­no­va­tion from re­searchers at the Sci­ence Pro­tect­ing Plant Health fo­rum was work­ing dog Aka, who was demon­strat­ing Biose­cu­rity Queensland’s fire ant pro­gram.

Fire ants were first de­tected in the Bris­bane area in Fe­bru­ary 2001. The South Amer­i­can pest poses a se­ri­ous eco­nomic and en­vi­ron­men­tal threat.

Since 2008, snif­fer dogs have been used as vi­tal tools in com­bat­ing the spread of the pest.

Se­nior han­dler Justin Gib­son said there were six dogs on the beat in south-east Queensland tack­ling fire ants and two in north Queensland de­tect­ing elec­tric ants.

“We use the de­tec­tion dogs in this pro­gram for a va­ri­ety of tasks,” he said.

“Their pri­mary task is to pro­vide proof of free­dom, so if a site has had an in­fes­ta­tion and has been treated, we do the fi­nal round of val­i­da­tion sur­veil­lance with our de­tec­tion dogs.

“They don’t need to see ants or nests, they just have to sniff them out for us.”

The trained dogs de­tect traces of the pheromone of the ant and cover large ar­eas quickly.

The hounds start their train­ing at about 18 months old and have six months with an in­de­pen­dent trainer be­fore en­ter­ing the fire ant pro­gram.

“We mainly use labradors but cur­rently we have a cat­tle dog cross and in the past we have had a golden re­triever and golden-col­lie cross,” Mr Gib­son said.

He likened the process of im­print­ing dogs to the scent of the ant’s pheromone to a hu­man re­sponse to their favourite home-cooked meal.

“It is like when you move out of home and you go back six or eight months later and mum is cook­ing her fa­mous stew and as soon as you walk in you know ex­actly what it is,” he said.

PHOTO: FAITH THIANG

ON THE BEAT: Aka takes a break at the Sci­ence Pro­tect­ing Plant Health fo­rum in Bris­bane.

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