The world's first detection dog for Argentine ants is being used to keep the Hauraki Gulf Islands pest-free.
Rhys Jones, a Welsh springer spaniel, was certified this year to detect the aggressive Argentine ants that pose a major threat to insects and endangered native birds.
Rhys and his handler Brian Shields, who works for Auckland Council, have been working on a number of pest-free islands.
Council biosecurity manager Jack Craw says along with detective dogs for other pests like rats and mice, Rhys is a "great weapon" in the fight against threats.
Rhys is trained to find ant trails rather than nests and ants in low numbers that are hard for people to spot.
He can sniff out Argentine ants in nurseries and pot plants or building materials being transported to pest-free islands.
Argentine ants are one of the world's most invasive ant species and are very aggressive. They beat out native ants and other invertebrates for food and can even kill small native birds.
The council and Department of Conservation celebrated their first pest-free warrant anniversary last Thursday, which Rhys also attended.
The pest-free warrant scheme is a biosecurity accreditation system for ferries and other commercial vessels visiting pest-free islands in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park.
It involves DOC and the council working with ferry and tourism operators, and other companies running vessels or carrying out contracts, on pest-free islands in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park like Rangitoto, Motutapu and Rakino. It's designed to ensure they don't carry pests like rats, mice and Argentine ants to the islands.
DOC has removed rats, stoats, possums and other pests from Rangitoto and Motutapu, making them safe havens for endangered wildlife like kiwi, takahe, tieke (saddleback) and tuatara.
Rakino Island, which is managed by the council, has been pest-free since 2002, and is home to native bird species like the bellbird and kakariki.
The pest-free warrant inspection process looks at how well biosecurity measures are applied by the commercial vessel operators and contractors visiting the pest-free islands.
Mr Craw says the response from operators has been good.
"We've had ferry companies like Fullers, SeaLink and 360 qualify for a pest-free warrant. That's as well as operators with smaller vessels and contractors working on the pest-free islands.
"This is a great system as it ensures the industry has good practices in place. The accreditation process doubles as an education for their staff, which they pass on to others.
"It works alongside other measures, including our pest-detection dogs."
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