Sun, Oct 03, 2004 - Page 2 News List

`War' against ants must be won, academics say

RED MENACE Taiwan must learn from the experiences of other countries in order to contain the spread of South American fire ants throughout the nation, scientists say

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Since the discovery of South American fire ants in Taipei City last week, academic circles and civic groups have demanded up-to-date information about prevention and control of the foreign species.

Since the discovery of the ants in Taipei City last week, local residents have been checking their gardens and lawns for signs of the ants. A fear of the ants has been aroused by the nation's sensationalist media. On Friday, Premier Yu Shyi-kun urged people not to overreact to the ants.

Agriculture Minister Lee Ching-lung (李金龍), has vowed to eradicate the fire ants within three years.

"By the end of this year, we will stop the ants from spreading," Lee said.

Meanwhile, methods adopted in Australia and the US to combat the ants will be introduced here in a bid to eradicate them, Lee said.

However, some academics said the nation should be much more concerned about the situation.

"If we don't fight and win this war, our future generations will pay the price," Lin Yao-sung (林曜松), a zoologist and dean of College of Life Science at National Taiwan University (NTU), told the Taipei Times.

According to Lin, Taiwan is the fourth country to be invaded by the aggressive species of ant. The fire ant, which is native to South America, is a serious pest which had invaded the US, New Zealand, and Australia.

Agricultural officials said that the species was first discovered in Taiwan last year in croplands in Taoyuan County. It is thought they came to Taiwan via imported goods. Academics, however, estimate that the species entered the country and remained undetected for about four years.

Nationwide, the pest has invaded about 6,000 hectares of land in four areas, including Taipei City, Taipei County, Taoyuan County and Chiayi County. In Taoyuan alone, 3,980 hectares of land have been overrun by the ants. The areas occupied by the ants seems to be expanding rapidly. On Friday, ant hills of the invasive ant were discovered in a lawn at Hsihu Rest Area in Miaoli County.

"Their discrete expansion suggests that the ants are spreading as a result of human activities," Lin said.

Lin suggests that a higher-level task force, which is able to use national resources freely, should be formed immediately to eliminate the ants.

According to the COA's Animals and Plants Inspection and Quarantine Bureau, the ants found in Taipei City could be brought by soil still attached to imported plants.

Bureau officials said that an international conference on the issue will be held here in early November for officials to learn control and elimination methods from Australian and US experts.

The US has fought against the fire ant for decades and the amount of money spent on controlling the species is estimated to be US$1 billion annually. In Australia, the fire ant arrived in 2001. In 2002, the Australian Bureau of Agriculture estimated that the species will cause economic losses of US$6.7 billion over the next 30 years.

Activists here have demanded more information about the fire ants be provided to the public. They said it is important to empower residents to identify the ants and report any infestations immediately.

Lai Wei-chieh (賴偉傑), director-general of the Green Citizens' Action Alliance, said that the issue reflects existing problems involving Taiwan's neglect of the threats posed by imported plants and animals.

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