Fire ant menace could spell end of the backyard barbie

Media Release |

A kick of the footy, a game of back yard cricket and even the Aussie BBQ would be at risk if Australian state and federal governments fail to adequately fund a national fire ant eradication program, the Invasive Species Council warned today.

“The US failed to eradicate red fire ants when they first discovered them in the 1930s, the ants now cost industry and agriculture $7 billion a year and the threat of being stung multiple times when stumbling into a nest has made picnics and outdoor sports a game of Russian roulette,” Invasive Species Council CEO Andrew Cox said today.

Please join us in calling on federal and state governments around Australia to properly fund the red fire ant eradication program by signing our Change.org petition today >>

Left, secondary infection following red fire ant stings, photo: Texas Department of Agriculture. Right, pustules resulting from fire ant stings. Photo: Murray S. Blum, The University of Georgia, www.forestryimages.org
Left, secondary infection following red fire ant stings. Photo: Texas Department of Agriculture. Right, pustules resulting from fire ant stings. Photo: Murray S. Blum, The University of Georgia, www.forestryimages.org

The call for full funding of the eradication program comes as state, territory and federal agricultural ministers meet in New Zealand today for the COAG Agriculture Forum. On the agenda will be the future of the red fire ant eradication program.

Fire ants first turned up in Australia at the northern port of Brisbane in 2001. Since then we know of four other incursions. The one remaining outbreak is just 40km from the NSW border and remains active. The fire ant contamination site is roughly 250,000 hectares, about the size of the ACT.

“Red fire ants might be small, but when their nests are disturbed they rise up in their thousands to swarm and sting their intruder. In the US they have caused the death of 80 people, all dying from anaphylactic shock. Elderly people in nursing homes have died after mass stings,” Mr Cox said.

“Experts say it would take a ten year, $400-500 million eradication program to eradicate the ants from South East Queensland. The alternative is unthinkable. If fire ants get out of control, South East Queensland alone faces a 30-year damage bill of $43 billion.”

About one quarter of Australia is vulnerable to fire ant invasion, including much of the populated coastal belt. Queensland, NSW and Victoria would be especially exposed to these deadly intruders.

“Fire ants are just about the biggest menace facing Australian agriculture, our natural environment and our way of life,” Mr Cox said today.

“If they became established in Queensland we’d be looking at a wildlife horror show, with predicted native wildlife population declines of about 45% for birds, 38% for mammals, 69% for reptiles and 95% of our frogs.

“Fire ant infestations would make it impossible to spend time outdoors without running the risk of disturbing a nest and being stung multiple times and potentially suffering anaphylactic shock.

“They would spell the end of the backyard barbie, and you might as well put your cricket set up on eBay and throw out your thongs.

“Uncontrolled fire ants in Australia would damage key infrastructure such as roads, footpaths and electrical equipment, damage crops, rob beehives and kill newborn livestock.

“During dry spells they circle the margins of dams, making it impossible for livestock to drink water without being seriously stung.

“We wouldn’t think twice about bringing foot and mouth under control if it was ever discovered in Australia, and estimates for such an action have been put at between $7 billion and $16 billion,” Mr Cox said.

“If state and federal governments this week fail to guarantee adequate funding of the red fire ant eradication program, Australia faces a bleak future. Out of control fire ants will make the cane toad infestation look like a picnic.”

The Invasive Species Council is calling on Australia’s state and federal governments to fully fund the fire ant eradication program at a cost of between $40 and $50 million a year over the next ten years.

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  • Andrew Cox on 0438 588 040.

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