A pure-bred Labrador named Fury has joined the front-line protecting Australia’s Wet Tropics, becoming the first in the world trained to detect yellow crazy ants.
The ants are a serious environmental and agricultural threat, listed among the world’s most invasive species and after a year of training Fury has graduated to be the first capable of identifying their nests.
The innovative approach is part of the Australian and Queensland Government’s $18 million Yellow Crazy Ant Control project to eradicate the pest from Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area, where they were first detected in 2010.
Although trained odour detection dogs and handlers have previously been used to locate infestations of electric ants and red imported fire ants in Queensland, Fury’s success in being able to detect yellow crazy ants is a world-first.
Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said that the move was an important breakthrough in addressing a major environmental and agricultural concern.
“The protection of the Wet Tropics and its wonderful array of native species is critical,” she said.
“These ants are a massive problem for native species and for farmers and while we have invested significantly in reducing infestation in the past we are committing to carrying on with the challenge.”
Queensland Minister for Environment and the Great Barrier Reef, the Hon. Leeanne Enoch MP, said Fury’s training was a fantastic achievement and much needed good news right now.
“This is such welcome news and is further demonstration of the successful work of the Wet Tropics Management Authority. The Authority has already significantly reduced yellow crazy ant numbers across some 1770 hectares since the program began,” she said.
“Having dogs like Fury will greatly increase the probability of detecting any last remaining pockets of these invasive ants.”
Special Envoy for the Great Barrier Reef and Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch has been a passionate supporter of measures to reduce the threat of Yellow Crazy Ants working with environmentalists and farmers alike.
“This a fabulous idea and I wish Fury all the best in her work,” he said.
“These ants are an absolute scourge and we are working with the Wet Tropics Authority, with cane-growers and local communities to protect our native species and our local agriculture.”
The Member for Cairns Michael Healy said, “Yellow crazy ants pose a significant threat to the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, as well as to local agricultural industries, tourism, and the quality of life for residents.”
“This is great news for our community, our environment and our economy,” Mr Healy said.
Authority Chair, Ms Leslie Shirreffs, said the successful training of Fury now paves the way to extend the program.
“We aim to obtain three more dogs and another handler as part of the program,” she said.
“The odour detection dogs will work primarily to survey residential areas and open suburban areas within the infestation and will also be used in the search for new infestations.”
Specialist training was provided to both Fury and her handler, Stuart Biggs, to develop the skills, teamwork and close bond that is essential for successful results on the ground.
The Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries carried out an independent validation process which required the dog and handler to complete a series of ten tests with at least an 80 percent success rate.
“Fury passed with flying colours,” Ms Shirreffs said. “We look forward to continuing success for the program.”
The Wet Tropics of Queensland was first inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1988. This spectacular region provides the only habitat for numerous rare species of plants and animals and is the only place in Australia where Aboriginal people have permanently inhabited a tropical rainforest environment.