Invasive Species: Australia prevents spread of red fire ants
Red fire ants are considered one of the most invasive species on the planet. They attack indiscriminately and present serious threats to people and agriculture. In Australia, biosecurity experts are working to prevent the spread of red fire ants before they take an economic toll. Greg Navarro has more.
A playground and surrounding park just outside of Brisbane presents the ideal backdrop for Jordan Christison to set up a training course. He's hiding rags soaked with a chemical found in red fire ants in the hopes that these two highly trained detection dogs will find them. When deployed in areas where red fire ants actually exist, the dogs have been able to sniff them out with an accuracy rate of up to 99%.
JORDAN CHRISTISON DETECTION DOG HANDLER, BIOSECURITY QUEENSLAND "The dogs detecting on these nests stop one nest from turning into 20 which turns into 100 in areas that we have previously believed to be cleared."
Red fire ants are native to South America, and now exist in several countries including the U.S., China, and here in Australia.
JOHN JORDAN GENERAL MANAGER, FIRE ANT ERADICATION PROGRAM "They are an incredibly aggressive species of ant in terms of both people and animals and wildlife so they have an environmental impact."
And they are quick to attack perceived threats in great numbers.
JORDAN CHRISTISON DETECTION DOG HANDLER, BIOSECURITY QUEENSLAND "If you disturb a large nest or even an underground nest you can be swarmed by ants and have thousands of stings at one time and the effects can be as bad as anaphylactic reactions which can lead to death."
GREG NAVARRO BRISBANE "The ants were first detected here in Queensland in a residential neighbourhood like this one in 2001. At the time it was believed they had already been here for at least 20 years."
That triggered an eradication program in Queensland that has had some success in wiping out red fire ants on a small scale.
JOHN JORDAN GENERAL MANAGER, FIRE ANT ERADICATION PROGRAM "If we are not successful in containing and eradicating them then the cost to the economy is estimated to be about $45 billion per annum."
Those threats extend to livestock, crops, and people turning public spaces just like this into uninhabitable areas.
JOHN JORDAN GENERAL MANAGER, FIRE ANT ERADICATION PROGRAM "They will take up residence in your backyard, they will affect your pets, they will affect your children's ability to play in the backyard so yes there are economic and rural production impacts, for mum and dad there are very real issues."
Experts here fear if they cannot contain and eradicate the ants in Southeast Queensland, then the invasive species will spread across the continent, as they've done in other countries. Taking the kind of toll that not even these highly skilled detection dogs will be able to stop. Greg Navarro, CGTN, Brisbane.