Inspiring Tail Super Cop

Our canines never fail to amaze us; when we think we know them enough, they suddenly come up with a skill unheard before. Meet AKA, the fire ant tracker.

AKA, the sniffer dog is just one of the weapons unleashed by the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) in its mission to eradicate fire ants. A first for Australia, this Labrador sniffer dog has been trained to detect the pheromone odour emitted by fire ant, when he was just two years old.

Training: It takes approximately six months of intensive training, which includes structure and control training, imprinting to Red Imported Fire Ant odour and field transition. The validation process includes:

  • Field search outdoors using dollies, live ants in tubes and/or live nests.
  • Line searches indoors or outdoors.
  • Must successfully pass 25 tests with 85 percent success rate.

All detections dogs are:

  • Trained to work using their sense of smell to detect fire ants up to 30 meters away in the right weather conditions.
  • Control and focus in a range of environments.
  • Focus on the handler and respond to voice command.
  • Ability to undertake broad acre surveillance of between 1 – 6 hectares per day.

Credibility: Biosecurity Queensland’s Neil O’Brien said, “AKA had passed independent validation and been awarded a 100 percent success rate in sniffing out fire ants. Scientific testing shows us that finding some of the last nests is similar to finding a needle in a haystack, which is where AKA the sniffer dog plays a very important role. AKA’s skills are honed to sniff out fire ant nests completely hidden to the naked eye, including nests that are underground or inside containers.”

How AKA works: Apart from pinpointing specific nests and ants, AKA can cover up to 3.5 hectares a day and identify whole areas where fire ant nests are located, which helps field staff to narrow the search, set lures and know where to conduct extra surveillance. The global positioning system attached to AKA’s dog collar tracks his movements with results being fed back into the ongoing surveillance and treatment work underpinning the National Fire Ant Eradication Program.
AKA, the Fire Ant Tracker programme: ‘AKA the Fire Ant Tracker’ is a 45 minutes interactive and inquiry based educational show that addresses the effects and hazards of fire ants. Here, AKA demonstrates to students how he’s been trained to find fire ants in the field.
In order to demonstrate AKA’s ability to detect fire ants, a simple line search technique is used. Six pots are aligned in row and a student is selected to hide a cloth imprinted with fire ant odour under one of the pots. AKA is then given a command to commence the search, once he hits the pot containing the fire ant odour he is trained to indicate by dropping directly in front. He is then rewarded with ‘play’. His favourite toy is brought out for a short and vigorous play session.
Benefits of the programme: The presentation is aimed to teach students how to identify fire ants from other native Australian ants, how to behave safely around fire ants (because they are aggressive and have a nasty sting), and how to work with family, parents or an adult to report their findings.
AKA’s presence and involvement throughout the presentation captivates students and engages them to actively participate and pass along information to their families and encourage parents to conduct passive surveillance. Last year nearly 70 percent of infested sites nests found were reported by the public, demonstrating the effectiveness of the community engagement programmes.
Message to readers: Appreciate and celebrate working dogs for the outstanding services they provide on a day to day basis.
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