Fire Ants’ Foe: The QLD sniffer dogs saving WA

The battle against invasive pests has two new front-line warriors: Cola and Willow, sniffer dogs from Queensland.

Highly trained biosecurity dogs, Cola and Willow, have been bought over from Queensland to search out the nests of the Red Imported Fire Ants found in the Fremantle area.

Cola and Willow can smell the fire ants from up to 30 metres away above ground and sniff out nests half a metre below ground.

The sensitive-nosed animals arrived in WA on Monday and got to work straight away on Tuesday  toughing out the heat for their 7 hour work days.

When questioned on how the dogs were dealing with the high temperatures, handler Justin Gibson says the animals are used to working in the heat.

“We’re Queenslanders mate, we’re alright.”

The dogs swap in and out over their seven hour work day, one dog out working while the other seeks out the ant colonies, digging frantically when they find something.

Gibson told reporters that the dogs are trained using a play-reward techniques, so that the task of searching out the nests is a game to the animals.

“Their whole life is based on a game.”

Colonies invade

6 colonies of Fire ants were found in the Fremantle area in November, trigging a surveillance of the port and close areas.

The ants came to WA by accident, probably catching a ride with more legitimate imports and slipping past biosecurity measures.

WA Minister for Ports, Alannah MacTiernan, says that biosecurity issues come with trade.

“We’re constantly finding new unwelcome arrivals on our shores, it’s almost an inevitable fact of global trade that we’re engaged in.”

Since arriving in WA, Cola and Willow have found only a few more individual ants, which seem to be genetically related to the other colonies that were found.

“We’re hopeful that there has just been this one infestation, but we have to keep working at this for a number of months before we would be confident that we could say this has been eradicated,” said Minister MacTiernan.

The fire ants have a painful, burning sting that leaves a red bump and in rare cases can cause fatal allergic reactions if left untreated.

A quarantine area has been established in Fremantle to prevent the spread of the ants, which cost $5 billion to the US economy every year.

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