How Australia is preparing to fight ants

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Australia is facing an invasion of red fire ants. This invasive species is hazardous to both agriculture and the country’s residents. Let’s find out what measures the authorities are taking

What’s the trend?

Travel and international trade have brought invasive species to different parts of the world. Every year, about 200 plants and animals take root in new territories. Their impact is detrimental to wildlife, as it often leads to the extinction of other species and disrupts the functioning of the ecosystem.

Why are red fire ants dangerous?

Red fire ants are one of the most dangerous invasive species. These insects are called RIFA, an acronym for red imported fire ants. RIFA came to Australia in the 1990s. They were first discovered in the port of Brisbane in 2001.

The invasion of this invasive species causes damage to local wildlife, resulting in economic losses. In addition, RIFA are capable of stinging with a special venom that is painful and can even kill a person with allergies.

Lack of funding]Australia

A national program was developed to destroy RIFA. More than $1.2 billion was allocated from the federal and local budgets for its implementation. The period from 2023 to 2027 accounts for $593 million of this amount.

In March 2024, public hearings on RIFA were held in the Australian Senate. The investigation showed that CSIRO (Australia’s State Scientific and Research Organization) received only $100,000 annually to combat them. So over the past 10 years the organization has only had about $1 million to spend on fire ant control, said CSIRO executive director for emerging industries Kirsten Rose.

Officials ignored pioneering research into combating RIFA, which included the development of a specific genetic bait and the introduction of drone surveillance technologies.

Senator Matt Canavan agreed with the claims of CSIRO representatives and noted that $100 thousand a year to combat such a threat “does not seem like a lot of money.” As a result of the Senate hearings, funds will be redirected to urgent ant control operations.

The extermination program does not take farmers into account

Dozens of witnesses from different regions of Australia spoke at the hearing. They all called for increased funding for the ant eradication program. It was noted that RIFA had already spread over an area of ​​more than 700 thousand hectares in Queensland in the northeast of the country.

Angus Atkinson, chairman of the Australian Farmers Federation’s sustainability and climate change committee, said he was very concerned about the funding of the program and the lack of representation of agricultural workers in it. Atkinson noted: “Just think, we only control 50% of the continent! You have to get us involved [in the program].”

Urgent measures

95% of Australia is suitable for red fire ants. If RIFA spread across the country, the impacts would be worse than those caused by other invasive species. It is estimated that around 650,000 Australians will be stung each year and beef production could fall by 40%.

Environmental experts have refuted claims that chemicals used to kill fire ants could affect native wildlife. Invasive Species Council of Australia member Jack Gough said: “The reality is that RIFAs are a disaster for our wildlife and their impacts far outweigh the very minor local impacts of the chemical.”

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