Sydney on red alert after red imported fire ant outbreak

Media Release |

Discovery of red imported fire ants in Sydney this week needs to be the wake-up call that prompts state and federal governments to act more aggressively to keep Australia fire ant free.

“With governments bickering over funding and incursions increasing, Australia is at a crossroads,” said Invasive Species Council CEO, Andrew Cox.

“Will short-termism and biosecurity complacency condemn future Australians to living with red imported fire ants?”

“Red imported fire ants are the foot and mouth disease equivalent to Australia’s environment and our way of life.”

“If not eradicated, fire ants will devastate wildlife, stop our children from being able to play in grassy areas and cost the economy billions of dollars a year. The costs have been modelled at $43 billion over 30 years in Southeast Queensland alone.[1]

“Yet the eradication program in Southeast Queensland lacks long-term funds, and biosecurity and surveillance systems to prevent and detect new incursions are regularly failing. There have been three new incursions in the past three years, with the most recent Queensland incursion not detected for probably three years.”

“While we wait for details of the Sydney incursion, such as how long it remained undetected and whether it originated from overseas, its presence alone must trigger government commitment to get on top of existing incursions and prevent new outbreaks.”

“The economic case to mount an eradication is overwhelming. In the south-west of the USA fire ants cost $7 billion each year for control, damage repair and medical treatment. They have caused more than 80 deaths. The cost estimate for southeast Queensland if eradication fails is about $1.5 billion a year.”

“To June this year federal, state and territory governments have directly spent $292 million since 2001 attempting to eradicate the ants from Queensland. While this sounds like a lot, it is highly cost effective with a benefit cost ratio of 390:1 [1].”

Red imported fire ant cartoon by Cathy Wilcox
Cartoon by Cathy Wilcox, with permission.

“In fact the lesson from the work so far is if more money had been spent in the early stages, this infestation may now be close to eradication. Ahead lies about ten-years of intensive eradication work. Success is not guaranteed, particularly if new incursions keep arriving.”

“There is too much at stake to contemplate failure. Governments must move beyond short-term economic bickering to escalate our response to fire ants.”

“Long-term funding for the southeast Queensland eradication must be committed and prevention and detection systems for exotic ants improved,” said Mr Cox.

[On 6 Dec 2014 authorities confirmed that the Port Botany infestation was unrelated to the other four infestations already in Queensland and originated from Argentina. The infestation is thought to have been at Port Botany for about six months based on the extent of the infestation]

Photo: Fire ants are tiny – between 2mm and 6mm long – and reddish-brown in colour with a dark abdomen. Photo: April Noble,,
Report suspected sightings to the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881 or email your sighting details and a photo to 

More info


Andrew Cox on 0438 588 040

Additional information

Detection dates of red imported fire ants

2001: Port of Brisbane (took ~10 years to detect)
2001: Initially Wacol and Richlands, now spread to Brisbane suburbs and areas west and south  (took ~10 years to detect)
2007: Gladstone
2012: Roma (came in on mining equipment)
2013: Gladstone (took ~3 years to detect)
2014: Port Botany, Sydney (December)

Questions needing an answer

The Invasive Species Council posed a series of critical questions to the current Senate inquiry into preventing new invasive species impacting the environment.

Quarantine, surveillance
  • What is going wrong with quarantine to allow fire ants to arrive in Gladstone twice? [and now Sydney]
  • Can we be confident that fire ants are not entering through other ports and escaping detection?
  • How confident can we be that other invasive ants are not entering Australia?
  • What actions have been taken to reduce the risk of new arrivals of red important fire ants?
  • What procedures are in place pre-border and at border to reduce the risk of arrival of red imported fire ant and when were these procedures last reviewed?
  • What resources are allocated for red imported fire ant eradication beyond 1 July 2014?
  • What is preventing the allocation of additional resources over a 5-10 year time period?
  • How can decision-making under nationally-funded eradication programs be improved to maximise the success of eradication.
  • Should the National Management Group [that makes decisions on responding to new incursions] be required to consult on decisions and provide reasons for them?

[1] Antony, A. et. al. 2009. Revised Benefits and Costs of Eradicating the Red Imported Fire Ant. Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries.

Help protect NSW!

Our expert team has written a list of policy asks detailing exactly what the next NSW government needs to do to stamp out some of the worst invasive species impacts across the state. But they will only become a reality if every key political candidate at the 2023 NSW state election hears about it from you!

Dear National Deer Management Coordinator,

Please accept this as a submission to the National Feral Deer Action Plan.

[Your personalised message will appear here] 

I am very concerned about the spread of deer and am pleased that a national plan has finally been developed. Without urgent action, funding and commitment from all levels of government it is clear that feral deer will continue to spread and damage our environment.

The feral deer population in Australia is growing rapidly and spreading across the country, damaging our natural environment, causing havoc for farmers and foresters and threatening public safety. Unlike much of the world where deer are native, our plants and wildlife haven’t evolved to deal with these heavy hard hooved animals with a voracious appetite.
With no natural predators and an ability to adapt to almost all environments, they could occupy almost all of Australia unless stopped. Despite this, state and territory governments have been slow to respond and in Victoria and Tasmania they are still protected by law for the enjoyment of hunters.

This plan should be adopted by all governments but must also be underpinned by dedicated funding and clear responsibilities. A plan without funding or accountability is a plan that will fail and Australia cannot afford for this to fail.

In order to prevent the spread of feral deer and reduce their impact on our native wildlife, ecosystems and agriculture, I ask that the following recommendations be adopted for the final National Feral Deer Action Plan:

1. All federal, state and territory governments should adopt the National Feral Deer Action Plan and declare feral deer to be a priority pest animal species.

2. All federal, state and territory governments should commit to:

  • Contain deer to the existing large population areas.
  • Reduce and eradicate smaller and isolated populations.
  • Protect important environmental assets such as world and national heritage areas.
  • Develop and fund regional plans and strategies to manage deer populations which involve land managers across all tenures.

3. In order to drive action and the success of this plan, there should be dedicated Commonwealth funding and support for:

  • A permanent national feral deer coordinator position.
  • A permanent federal feral deer action committee with representatives from the commonwealth and state and territory governments and the environmental and agricultural sectors.
  • An ongoing public education campaign on feral deer.
  • A network of regional feral deer coordinators to drive local action across tenures.

4. The expected outcomes for the plan need to be more ambitious, with clear interim targets including:

  • Within one year, all States and Territories should have in place arrangements to implement the National Feral Deer Action Plan, including allocating dedicated funding for implementation.
  • Within one year, feral deer management plans should be developed for key environmental assets of national significance, including the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, the Greater Blue Mountains, the Australian Alps, the Gondwana Rainforests and the Wet Tropics of Queensland.
  • Within five years coordinated landscape scale management should be in place where land owners, land managers, government and community are demonstrably working together.

5. A national feral deer containment map with three zones should be adopted. It should be more ambitious than the zone map in the current draft plan and there should be greater clarity in the naming of the zones. Improvements that should be adopted include:

  • Renaming the zones to better reflect the management intention to ‘Containment Zone 1’ (the current large population zone), ‘Containment Buffer Zone 2’ (the current buffer zone) and ‘Eradication and prevention Zone 3’ (the current small isolated population zone).
  • The NSW northern rivers area should be in the eradication and prevention zone as there are few feral deer currently in this region and eradicating isolated populations and preventing spread into this area is still possible.
  • The whole of South Australia should be in the eradication and prevention zone as eradication is the goal of the SA Government.
  • The Tasmanian region in the containment zone should be smaller to reflect greater ambition and potential for eradication of deer populations.
  • In eastern Victoria areas such as Wilson’s Promontory, Westernport islands and the Mornington Peninsula should be in the eradication and prevention zone.

6. There should be consistent laws and regulations across all states and territories that:

  • Recognise feral deer as a pest animal and treat them as such.
  • Establish a clear responsibility for all landholders and managers to be involved in feral deer control programs.
  • Set clear penalties to stop the wilful or negligent release of feral deer.
  • Prevent new deer farms in areas where no feral deer are present and phase out all deer farms in the eradication and prevention zone.
  • Enable enforcement of compliance, including on government land.

I support the follow principles being adopted in the final National Feral Deer Action Plan:

  • Feral deer are a pest and should be treated as such on all tenures, except on approved deer farms.
  • Federal, state and territory governments have a responsibility to fund the outcomes under this plan.
  • All land managers in areas where feral deer are present have a responsibility to be involved in feral deer control programs.
  • The focus of management efforts should be on eradication of isolated, satellite populations, protection of key environmental assets currently impacted and stopping the spread to new regions.
  • Feral deer control should be undertaken humanely, safely and professionally according to agreed protocols and all tools which meet this criteria should be adopted, including aerial control.
  • Funding for coordination, regional planning and community engagement is necessary for effective feral deer management.
  • Ongoing management and follow up control efforts are required to achieve long lasting results.
  • Rules and regulations should be consistent across jurisdictions and land tenures.
  • Recreational hunting is not an effective strategy for feral deer control and should not be relied upon.
[Your name]
[Your email address]
[Your suburb], [Your state]