Florida officials trying to eradicate an invasion plan to deploy Labradors as their a new weapon in the battle.
State agriculture authorities say they hope the dogs will add to their success in fighting an infestation that was spotted by a home-owner nearly two years ago and quickly swept through the Miami area.
Officials say that since the an aggressive extermination campaign began, they have collected 128,000 snails. The Giant African Land Snail can grow as big as rats and devour plants, stucco and plaster. The snails hunt for calcium needed to grow their big shells and can cause extensive structural damage to buildings.
“We see a lot of strange things in Florida and this one makes the top of the list,” said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. “It is a very serious pest.”
The snails have been introduced to Florida by a Miami Santeria group, a religion with West African and Caribbean roots that uses the snails in its rituals.
The snails can carry a parasitic rat lungworm that can cause illness in humans, including a form of meningitis, although no such cases have been identified in the United States.
To stamp out the snails, a team of 45 people regularly fans out across Miami, sometimes using rakes and getting down on their hands and knees to hunt for them.
The snail fighters are also using bait, chemical treatments and experimental traps to root out the mollusks, helped by phone calls from local residents who report sightings.
Joining them soon will be canine detectors, including a Labrador Retriever who is being trained to sniff out the snails.
“They’re very good at detecting the Giant African Land Snail,” said Richard Gaskalla, the head of plant industry at the Florida Agriculture Department. “So we’re building four-legged technology into this program as quickly as we can.”
The Giant African Land Snail has no natural predator, posing a challenge to eradication efforts. But it can give off a strong odor that dogs can be trained to detect.
Officials showed off a black Lab named Bear who is expected to soon wrap up his three-month training and start accompanying the snail hunters. Two other Labradors are also expected to be trained, they said.
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