The Queensland government has announced a new suppression strategy to stop the spread of fire ants into New South Wales.
- Fire ants have been detected just 5km from the New South Wales border
- The Queensland government is aiming to contain fire ants within a new horseshoe-shaped containment zone
- More compliance officers will be deployed to crack down on people who transport high-risk materials
A horseshoe-shaped containment area is being created in South East Queensland, which will involve a 10-kilometre-wide band blanketed with treatment three times a year.
It extends from Moreton Bay, west to the Lockyer Valley, and south to the Tweed Shire Council in New South Wales.
The strategy aims to suppress and eradicate fire ants by baiting and using dogs to detect new outbreaks.
Agriculture Minister Mark Furner said the ants imposed a serious threat to humans and our way of life.
“They are extremely dangerous not only to humans but also to agriculture, land, and animals,” Mr Furner said.
“They are a super pest and we need to make sure we suppress and then eradicate them.”
The strategy included more compliance officers being deployed to crack down on people who failed to comply with biosecurity rules.
“We will be coming down tough on compliance,” Mr Furner said.
“There are fines in the act of up to $470,000 or three years’ imprisonment.”
Mr Furner said the four-year strategy was endorsed at a recent meeting of state and federal agriculture ministers.
New South Wales announced restrictions on the cross-border movement of high-risk materials such as hay, mulch, and soil following the detection of fire ants in the Gold Coast Hinterland.
Fire ants were discovered by a member of the public at an equestrian centre in Tallebudgera Valley, 5km north of the New South Wales border.
The National Fire Ant Eradication Program said the nests had been destroyed.
The Invasive Species Council said the new strategy amounted to a reduction in the scale of the fire ant eradication effort.
The council’s advocacy manager, Jack Gough, said the program was severely underfunded because it was not being treated as an Australia-wide problem.
“The federal government’s own report two years ago said we needed to be spending in the order of $200–300 million every year if we were to eradicate fire ants by the time of the Olympics in 2032,” Mr Gough said.
“It is a fraction of the cost that fire ants will impose on our economy, which that report estimated would be over $2 billion every year.”
Mr Gough said the burden to eradicate fire ants was unfairly falling on the Queensland and New South Wales governments.
“The federal government, Victoria, and Western Australia need to come to the party as well because the threat of fire ants is to the whole of Australia — it is not a Queensland alone problem,” he said.
Sniffing out the pests
Cola the black labrador is the government’s secret weapon in its fight against the invasive species.
She is part of a team of seven fire ant detection dogs specially trained to sniff out pheromones given off by the ants.
Before the dogs are put to work, they are tested by vets to make sure they are not allergic to the pest’s powerful sting.
The dogs work four hours a day, deployed to properties around the nation whenever an incursion is reported.
The program’s senior handler Justin Gibson said Cola was the best in the world at what she did.
“She is fantastic and has a great work ethic,” Mr Gibson said.
“We’re there to find the ants that we can’t see, that aren’t visually obvious.”
To Cola, it’s a game, and the detection dogs are selected for their play drive.
Handlers use a toy as a reward when they find a nest, which is then treated with poison bait to kill the colony’s queen.
“They indicate to us just through their body language that they have picked up the scent, and we go, ‘We’re on,’” Mr Gibson said.
“When they find the ants they will give an active indication — a scratch — at the area.
“If we are in a situation where we have done multiple rounds of treatment we might only be finding remnant ants but we can leave that site with confidence that we have eradicated them.”
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