Gov­ern­ment work­ers sniff­ing out fire ant treats

NewsMail - Wide Bay Rural Weekly - - NEWS - . AN­DREA DAVY An­drea.davy@ru­ral­weekly.com.au

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

The hounds start their train­ing when they are about 18 months of age and have six months with an in­de­pen­dent trainer be­fore en­ter­ing the fire-ant pro­gram, he said.

“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,” he said.

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

“The eas­i­est way for me to ex­plain 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.

PHOTO: FAITH THIANG

Rachel Tay­lor-Hukins inspects some live fire ants.

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