Australia is dealing with an invasion of deadly red fire ants which are becoming a huge problem in parts of south east Queensland.
There are concerns the ant colonies will spread even further putting people, livestock and agriculture at risk.
A report prepared for the Australian government has found that there is very little time left to eradicate them to prevent them spreading across the country.
“This report shows that the impacts of red fire ants, if allowed to spread, will exceed the combined impacts of all of our current feral animals – the cane toads, the feral cats, the wild dogs, the camels. So the impacts are enormous,” Andrew Cox, CEO Invasive Species Council pointed out.
The ants have plagued an area of south east Queensland since they entered a Brisbane port in 2001.
The city of Ipswich is heavily affected, its mayor acknowledges.
“We are doing everything right. This doesn’t seem to have any effect. The other thing is that, Leslie Park at Goodna, we had to close it because it became so bad and young kids were getting bitten by these aggressive little creatures,” explained Paul Pisasale.
In the United States, 85 people died following an anaphylactic shock caused by multiple red fire ant bites.
The report says that if the ant colonies are allowed to spread around the country, an estimated 3000 people could suffer from such shocks in Australia.
The ants are also known to eat small livestock and pets and can seriously undermine crops.
Biosecurity Queensland, a public body from the Department of Agriculture at Queensland Government, is now working to eradicate outbreaks in populated areas.
“There’s no doubt that the ants will keep spreading slowly, even despite our battles,” Ross Wylie, Manager of Scientific Services, Biosecurity Queensland.
Among the weapons being used in this battle is Willow – a specially trained sniffer dog who can hunt down the invasive species.
The Australian Government is considering a recomendation to double its efforts and spend 380 million Australian dollars (266 million euros) over the next decade on treatment and surveillance to stop the march of the ants.
The cost of not dealing with the problem could hit the economy to the tune of around 1.6 billion Australian dollars (1.12 billion euros), according to the report.