Mon, Sep 25, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Beagle trained to hunt fire ants

BRAVE NOSE A trainer at Pingtung's Detector Dog Training Center said that attempts at training red fire ant dogs elsewhere had failed since many dogs are afraid of the smell

By Kuo Yi-chun  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taiwan now has the world's first detector dog able to detect the presence of red fire ants, a species alien to Taiwan whose bite can lead to anaphylactic shock -- a sometimes fatal condition. "Model," as the talented beagle is known, has been trained to detect red fire ants in groups of 13 ants or more.

Weighing 13kg, three-year-old Model was originally trained by the Detector Dog Training Center at the National Pingtung University of Science and Technology to work as a detector dog at airports, said Chi Wei-lian (祁偉廉), an assistant trainer at the center.

unusually sensitive

Chi said that although Model has an unusually sensitive nose, she is a bit weaker and suffers more often from diarrhea than other dogs do. Due to Model's keen nose, however, the center wanted to use the dog, and an opportunity presented itself when the red ant detection program at Academia Sinica contacted the training center about the possibility of training red ant detector dogs. The center decided to retrain Model.

At a press conference at Academia Sinica on Friday, Model showed her abilities. Ten cans with dead red fire ants had been hidden in different locations on a lawn.

Led by trainer assistant Huang Yi-fan (黃怡凡), Model needed less than three minutes to find the first two, each time sitting down to mark the location where the can was found.

rare breed

Explaining how difficult it was to train detector dogs, Chi said that only one in 10 dogs has the abilities required to become a dedicated detector dog.

Of the dogs suitable to work as detector dogs, only one in two can be trained as fire ant detector dogs.

As an example, Chi said that Model was trained together with two other beagles, Rudolph and Eleven, but neither of them were as sensitive as Model, who was trained in six months.

Chi added that attempts at training such dogs in Australia had failed since many dogs are afraid of the smell of red fire ants.

Lin Tsung-chi (林宗岐), an assistant professor in the department of biology at National Changhua University of Education who has been called "the red fire ant doctor" said that in Taiwan, red fire ants mainly appear in Taoyuan, Taipei and Chiayi counties.

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