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Media Release
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Dr David Kemp

2 April 2003

Kemp Takes Action to Fight Tramp Ant Threat


Having successfully stopped the spread of the highly invasive Fire Ants in Brisbane and Crazy Ants on Christmas Island through targeted eradication campaigns, the Howard Government will launch a national initiative aimed at wiping out these ants and other tramp ant species.

"The Howard Government is taking further action to complement the work already underway by introducing a national framework for a threat abatement plan where research, public education, surveillance and monitoring, quarantine and border control, and development of contingency plans will be coordinated across all States and Territories," Dr Kemp said.

"This follows on from today's listing of the Fire Ant as a key threatening process under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), which is a trigger for a threat abatement plan to eradicate and control pest species.

"The plan will target all tramp ant species, including the Fire Ant, Crazy Ant, Big-Headed Ant and Argentine Ant, that have the potential to devastate Australia's threatened species and sensitive biodiversity if left uncontrolled."

Like Crazy Ants, Fire Ants are very aggressive and highly invasive through building super-colonies that have the potential to spread across most of Australia. They also pose a serious threat to a number of our native species, including the nationally-listed Loggerhead Turtle, Skinks and ground-nesting bird species.

Anything that disturbs the nest is readily stung and this can induce anaphylactic shock in sensitive animals. Native animals stung by Fire Ants can be blinded or infected, reducing their chance of survival or killing them outright.

"Eradication campaigns already underway include a $123 million program carried out by the Fire Ant Control Centre since February 2001 when two infestations were found at the Brisbane suburbs of Richlands and Fisherman's Island at Moreton Bay. The eradication program, jointly funded by the Federal and Queensland Governments, has been highly successful to date with 90% of fire ants killed in the first year of treatment. Surveys of the infested sites show fire ants no longer exist at 70% of these sites after the first year of treatment," Dr Kemp said.

"Parks Australia North Branch and Monash University have also worked together to successfully control the yellow Crazy Ant super-colonies on Christmas Island through an aerial baiting program. Their actions have protected the Island's world-renowned red crab population and unique environment.

"The national threat abatement plan will not duplicate this work which is targeting specific areas where infestations have been found. It will be a coordinated national approach, not only aimed at eradicating these ants but to, in the interim, prevent them from spreading through border control and quarantine and surveillance measures."

Fire Ants are native to South America where their numbers are regulated by competition from other ant species and a range of predators. However, Fire Ants are causing problems to wildlife when introduced to areas outside of its natural range, including the United States, where they have colonised over 275 million acres. In Australia, Fire Ants have the potential to colonise much of Australia if left uncontrolled, posing a serious threat to native flora and fauna as well as overtaking productive agricultural land.

"Fire Ants also have the potential to become a serious pest in agriculture, which has occurred in the United States. The ants not only feed on crops, especially on seeds and young plants, they undermine crops through nesting, damage irrigation systems and sting livestock. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) has indicated the potential cost of Fire Ants to the agricultural sector is around $8.9 billion over a 30 year period," Dr Kemp said.

"If left unchecked, preliminary climate model analysis by Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has shown Fire Ants have the potential in inhabit most of the major coastal cities of Australia and extensive areas in the tropical north.

"By taking action now, we have given ourselves the best chance of national control and eradication of not only Fire Ants, but all tramp ant species."

A high-resolution image of Fire Ant is available for download at www.ea.gov.au/minister/env/2003/mr02apr203.html.

Further information on Australia's threatened species is available from Environment Australia's Community Information Unit website at www.ea.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/index.html or free call on 1800 803 772.

Media Contacts:
Catherine Job (Dr Kemp's office) 02 6277 7640 or 0403 648 400
Jo Alston (Environment Australia) 6274 2894

Fire Ant

Photo taken by Peter Green

Commonwealth of Australia