Imagine ants swarming your face in the dead of night and burning your eyes with acid while you sleep. This was just one of the horror stories we heard during a recent trip to Queensland where we awarded four very deserving local champions for their efforts in combating yellow crazy ants.
It is difficult to imagine the huge impact these ants have on people, their homes, pets and surrounding wildlife. Visiting infestation areas in Edmonton and Kuranda and speaking to people who have experienced yellow crazy ant super colonies first hand brought home the urgent need to eradicate this highly destructive ant. If nothing is done we risk losing Queensland’s Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.
Edmonton landowner Frank Teodo is one of the local champions we presented with a Froggatt Award for raising awareness about the dangers of yellow crazy ants. He has been attacked three times while sleeping in his home, the ants spitting acid into his eyes and burning them so badly he needed specialist eye treatment for a week.
Frank has huge hunting dogs, but their brawn is no match for the acid produced by yellow crazy ants. In many places it has burnt their paws to the bone.
World heritage at risk
Frank’s property adjoins the rainforest of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area south of Cairns. Even though two years of baiting have reduced ant numbers so that they are no longer a painful nuisance to Frank and his dogs, the rainforest’s wildlife, its lizards, frogs and tree kangaroos have yet to return to his property. He now calls it a wildlife ‘ghost town’.
But as frightening as the situation is an incredible amount of community support and coordination have gone into a program to eradicate yellow crazy ants. Local efforts have been immense.
Over the past two years the Wet Tropics Management Authority, funded by a $2 million federal government grant, has led the charge against yellow crazy ants. Together with an incredible $3.5 million worth of in kind support from volunteers, Green Army crews, local government and other concerned groups in the region they are making a difference.
Successful baiting over the past two years has reduced overall ant numbers across the 830 hectares infested by yellow crazy ants, and eradicated some of the smaller infestations. In many areas where baiting has significantly lowered ant numbers the native wildlife is coming back.
Program managers have also been working with James Cook University to improve techniques and believe eradication is possible, as long as funding continues.
Funding at a crossroads
Current funding will only pay for one more round of baiting this year. Unless both the Queensland and federal governments commit new funds to the eradication program all of the work carried out will have been in vain and these highly destructive ants will spread and multiply.
What’s needed to get us over the line? The Wet Tropics Management Authority estimates we need ten more years to eradicate yellow crazy ants. This would require $5 million each year. Without this commitment tourism in the region will increasingly suffer. Tourists visiting the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area currently spend $2 billion per year*.
In February, the Queensland Government admitted that it was wrong to walk away from the eradication of the yellow crazy ants in 2012 and is now calling on the Australian Government to back eradication of the highly invasive ant from the wet tropics world heritage area.
The Invasive Species Council met with the office of Queensland Treasurer Curtis Pitt in early February and argued strongly for continued yellow crazy ant eradication funding for the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area near Cairns. We were assured of the Treasurer’s interest in the issue, which was not surprising since his electorate contains the largest infestation.
No funds have yet been committed by either government, but this important shift in the Queensland Government’s position puts pressure on both governments to properly fund the eradication of yellow crazy ants.
The Invasive Species Council will continue to raise awareness about this issue and campaign for a properly-resourced eradication program. We are also seeking an urgent review of the status of smaller yellow crazy ant infestations between Cairns and Brisbane that have not been subject to eradication since 2012.
Failure is not an option
The residents of Cairns and Kuranda, tourism operators and cane growers who have seen the devastating impacts yellow crazy ants have on agriculture and wildlife understand what’s at stake. Few people beyond this beautiful part of Queensland have any real idea of what they could be facing if eradication is unsuccessful.
If there is no control of yellow crazy ants, modelling shows they could spread throughout large parts of Queensland, across Northern Australia and down the eastern seaboard of New South Wales.
The stakes could not be higher; we must eradicate these ants from Cairns and Kuranda. We don’t want future generations to ask why we didn’t act when we had the chance.
Please join us by writing to federal environment minister Greg Hunt, federal agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk calling on them to fund eradication of yellow crazy ants.ACT NOW