Legislative Council: Thursday, October 20, 2022


Fruit Fly

The Hon. T.T. NGO (15:03): My question is to the Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development. Will the minister update the chamber on the use of sniffer dogs to detect fruit fly?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries) (15:03): I thank the honourable member for his question and his ongoing interest in our horticulture and agricultural industries. I am very pleased to advise the chamber that two detector dogs have been trained and have started a trial to find fruit fly larvae in orchards and help the Department of Primary Industries and Regions in our fight against the outbreaks in the Riverland.

Two detector dogs, Max, who is a four-year-old border collie cross koolie, and Rylee, who is a three-year-old German Shepherd, graduated on 29 September, following their final exams in Mypolonga. They graduated from a four-month training program and it was my delight and privilege to see them the next day when they appeared to be enjoying their work incredibly enthusiastically and having a very great time, as well as being incredibly useful, of course, in this trial. The dogs began work in the field as part of a month-long trial, which will decide the ongoing use of this new and innovative tool for finding fruit fly.

The difference, I guess, with using detector dogs is that the detector dogs have the potential to cover large areas of land very quickly, and that way they can support the PIRSA field teams in their search by identifying potential hotspots which require further investigation. The detector dogs search all the trees in the orchard and they work in a kind of pendulum motion. They are off lead and they are ahead of the handler. The dogs lie down if they detect the larvae, and that is how they inform the trainer of their find.

The training involved hiding irradiated larvae, which are secured in a mesh bag and either buried in the ground or hung from trees in an orchard. That is what they would lie down in front of when they found it. The irradiated larvae are from the Port Augusta Sterile Insect Production Facility and they are safe to use in the training. I am very interested to see the outcome of this trial of detector dogs in the Riverland fruit fly response. If successful, following appropriate analysis, we will be able to continue using them as a response tactic.

The way that teams currently locate fruit fly larvae—this is human teams—is by searching the fruit trees for signs of fruit fly damage and then they have to actually open up the fruit, cut it open, to be able to inspect further. The detector dogs will potentially enhance this good work by helping to identify possible hotspots in large areas of land much faster than could be done otherwise.

Finding Queensland fruit fly larvae early is important in preventing it from spreading and becoming more established. Detector dogs are increasingly being used to identify pests, and this is the first time they have been used to detect Queensland larvae infestations in fruit. Detector dogs have been successfully used to find Mediterranean fruit fly larvae in a controlled environment overseas. In that case, the dogs searched 100 pieces of fruit in less than seven minutes and identified three infested fruits as a result.

We are committed to keeping South Australia fruit fly free because it allows industry a distinct advantage in overseas markets. This trial is one of the many ways the state government is responding to fruit fly outbreaks in the Riverland.