Fresh onions, packets of vegetable seed, and a “big amount” of pork sausages are among the several hundred detections made by Queensland’s newest biosecurity recruit JD the detection dog.
The four-legged cop on the beat came to Cairns International Airport in October in response to the march of African Swine Fever across Europe, China, and nearly every country in Asia.
Cairns and far north Queensland had been without biosecurity detection dog capability since the retirement of Jethro in January 2019.
But JD’s arrival has had an immediate impact, according to his handler and biosecurity officer Violeta ‘Vee’ Toneva.
His ability to sniff out high-risk items such as meat, meat products, fruit, and vegetables has already led to 11 infringement notices and 67 written warnings being issued.
At least one enforcement notice has also been handed out.
“He definitely really enjoys the work and he’s very good at finding the target odours he’s trained on.
“It’s a big game to him.”
Threat to $5.2 billion industry
JD’s response to finding a target odour differs depending on the environment, Ms Toneva explained.
In a mail centre he’s trained to ‘dig on’ the item of interest, while at an arrivals lounge at a busy airport he simply sits next to a bag.
The only thing that doesn’t differ is the reward for a job well done — treats, pats, and plenty of positive encouragement.
And while treats may be JD’s only motivation, the importance of the work is not lost on his handler.
“In the first month JD was deployed he located a big amount of pork sausages, fresh onions, and packets of vegetable seeds for sowing from Vietnam in a passenger’s bag,” Ms Toneva said.
“The passenger had knowingly not declared these high-risk biosecurity items.
“They had been planning to do work on a banana plantation.”
Uncooked or partly cooked pork meat, in particular, is a high risk of being contaminated with African swine fever which, if it reached Australia, could devastate the $5.2 billion pork industry.
“We’re doing our best to make sure we prevent biosecurity risk material coming through our borders,” Ms Toneva said.
African swine fever marches on
Before novel coronavirus, African swine fever was the biggest biosecurity threat for Australia.
It has already decimated China’s pig population and is continuing to spread rapidly throughout south-east Asia, including in Bali.
The pig-killing disease is continuing its march around the globe, and this week more than 20,000 pigs were killed at just one piggery in Europe, heightening concern it may soon reach the small goods giant of Denmark.
Senior analyst at Mecardo, Andrew Whitelaw, said swine fever may not be in the headlines anymore but it was still a great concern.
He said with an infection rate of about 80 per cent, already half of the world’s 800 million pigs had been either subjected to the disease or culled.
“It’s spread like wildfire throughout Asia … and now what we’re seeing in Europe is a gradual movement of [infected] pigs west over the past six months from Poland. It’s getting very close to the German border,” he said.
Ironically, it is the spread of coronavirus and its dramatic impact on international travel which has negated the risk of ASF arriving on Australia’s doorstep.
But with ASF found in Timor Leste last year, less than 1000 kilometres from Darwin, the threat of it reaching the mainland remains real.