The Queensland Government has introduced an unusual new tactic in the fight against red imported fire ants. 

The Queensland Government has stepped up measures to control the red imported fire ant with the introduction of detection dogs. The move is part of a 10-year strategy to control fire ants across the state.

Biosecurity Queensland has already begun an eight-month baiting program west and south of Brisbane using helicopters and ground crews to spread a non-toxic bait, with the dogs used for follow-up surveillance.

“With the warmer weather, the fire ants are on the move but so are we,” said Mark Furner, minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries. “As well as baiting, we are engaging with local communities and businesses to raise awareness and encourage reporting of suspicious ants.”

Mr Furner said odour detection dogs had been used with great success in ant eradication programs and were a world-first innovation for detection and eradication of invasive ant species.

“They are used primarily for surveillance,” Mr Furner said. “Their extra-sensitive noses are perfect for checking areas where the program has recently completed baiting to determine if any ants have survived.

“One of our most popular engagement activities is the fire ant school education program called ‘Aka the fire ant tracker’, which features our retired fire ant odour detection dog − a Labrador named Aka.

“Our handler takes Aka around schools teaching students about the threat posed by fire ants and inspiring their interest in current environmental issues.”

Mr Furner said 2018 was the second season of Queensland’s 10-year plan fire ant eradication plan.

“Our 10-year strategy will involve the suppression and then elimination of fire ants starting to the west of Ipswich in the Lockyer and Scenic Rim and also on the Gold Coast, and gradually working towards the east,” he said.

However, residents and farmers on the ground are not sure that the program is working. Mr Carmichael who owns property at Willowbank in Ipswich says his property is a breeding ground for fire ants. “I’m just looking at what’s happening on this farm and the fire ants are just spreading, they’re not getting held back at all. There’s a swamp on my land that is a huge breeding area that is re-infesting other areas, so this needs to be sorted out if they have any chance of controlling them elsewhere.”

Biosecurity had carried out one baiting application in autumn. But then in winter, due to lack of ant activity, and then in spring, due to the rains, further bait applications could not be carried out. Such are the challenges of baiting.

Invasive Species Council CEO Andrew Cox urged Biosecurity Queensland to further engage with landholders and the public so the program could be better understood.

“I think Biosecurity Queensland could focus more on reaching out to the community and be really clear on what they’re doing so people don’t have unrealistic expectations.”

Mr Furner was keen to stress that Biosecurity Queensland has an expert panel advising and assessing the program and that the public should be aware that they are very much focused on monitoring and dealing with the problem, even if they may not see government personnel on the ground every day.

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