We are bombarded with so much news these days that many Sydney residents would have missed the reports last November about fierce fire ants on the city’s doorstep that threatened to ruin the Australian way of life and ‘cost the economy billions’.
Those who noticed could take heart from the NSW government’s robust response. The single nest found at a Port Botany freight terminal drew a swarm of emergency response experts, aided by three ‘elite’ odour detection dogs with enough snout-power to zero in on a single ant. Poisons were laid and hundreds of home gardens searched up to two kilometres away in an operation leaving little to chance.
The dogs were on loan from Queensland, where, since 2001, close to $300 million has been spent trying to oust red imported fire ants (to give them their full name) from around Brisbane, so far without success. Funding decisions to be made soon could decide whether Australia ends up like the southern US, where, to quote Texan professor of entomology Bradleigh Vinson, people in infested areas “do not have picnics on the lawn, go barefoot, sit or lay on the ground, or stand in one place without constantly looking at the ground near their feet to be sure the ants are not swarming up their legs.”