Sadly, our Wet Tropics World Heritage Area came under threat in 2012 through the incursion of yellow crazy ants, an alien species thought to have come from South-East Asia. It was making our rainforest fall silent, as native insects, frogs and even birds fell victim to these invasive ants.
Residents of Kuranda and the wider Cairns and Tableland community rallied to protect homes and formed a group under the not-for-profit community group Kuranda Envirocare. This is now known as the Yellow Crazy Ant Community Taskforce (the Taskforce). We are a group united by the quest to stop the invasion and impact of yellow crazy ants in our environment, homes and lifestyle. We live amongst the world’s oldest continuously surviving tropical rainforest and we are here to protect it.
We help the Wet Tropics Management Authority’s Yellow Crazy Ant Eradication Program by raising awareness, carrying out surveys and, in the past, have treated the 31ha infestation at Russett Park. The Taskforce at Russett Park was essential in delivering the groundwork to treat the infestation, as the Authority had limited staff and resources at the time.
In April 2015 Mikhaila Jacoby officially formed the Kuranda Yellow Crazy Ant Community Taskforce after an infestation of yellow crazy ants swarmed in her backyard at Russett Park. She believed the success of treating the infestation required a community led approach.
In June 2015, Kuranda Envirocare obtained a Wet Tropics Community Grant from Terrain Natural Resource Management to coordinate volunteers and activities for the Taskforce. Soon there were more than 100 active local volunteers to survey and treat the infestation area.
When funding to eradicate yellow crazy ants from the Wet Tropics became uncertain, the community mobilised and raised $20,000, half of which was donated by The Kuranda Paper, for research into the biology of yellow crazy ants and collection of ant colonies for set up in a laboratory.
Today, the Yellow Crazy Ant Community Taskforce works alongside the Authority’s Yellow Crazy Ant Eradication Program to help find and eradicate yellow crazy ants in and adjacent to the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. We have grown to more than 260 registered members who stay informed or are active and volunteer whilst sharing news about yellow crazy ants with the rest of our community.
The Yellow Crazy Ant Community Taskforce is managed by Kuranda Envirocare. It works closely with the Wet Tropics Management Authority’s Yellow Crazy Ant Eradication Program which also provides funding assistance through Kuranda Envirocare for provision of a taskforce coordinator.
The yellow crazy ant infestation at Russett Park—a chronology
Yellow crazy ants identified in Kuranda
Russett Park resident Rob Richardson reported unusual ant behaviour on his property and notified his neighbour Mikhaila Jacoby who reported the ants to the Wet Tropics Management Authority (the Authority). Mikhaila was an intern with the Authority at the time. The ants were subsequently identified as yellow crazy ants by Biosecurity Queensland.
A delimitation (a survey of the infestation boundary) survey was carried out in several stages in Russett Park. In early 2014, Conservation Volunteers did the initial delimitation, outlining a rough boundary of the infestation measuring 31ha.
First survey across the Barron River
In March, the Conservation Volunteers Green Army surveyed the opposite side of the Barron River and the southern forested area along the Barron River at Russett Park. No yellow crazy ants were detected.
Yellow crazy ants make headlines
Yellow crazy ants made front page news in The Kuranda Paper’s April and June editions.
Safeway Pest Control
In June, the first round of treatment was done by Safeway Pest Control and was limited to easily accessed areas and directly around houses.
Work for the Dole
In October, the second round of treatment was carried out by Work for the Dole teams. They covered more ground but still didn’t achieve full coverage of the infestation.
The Yellow Crazy Ant Community Taskforce was born
In April, Mikhaila Jacoby was concerned the eradication efforts at Russett Park were hampered due to the limited resources available to the Authority. Mikhaila felt the eradication efforts needed more dedicated and passionate support and approached the Authority’s Senior Project Officer, Lucy Karger, with the suggestion of a community-led approach to dealing with yellow crazy ants at Russett Park. The Authority strongly supported the idea and Mikhaila approached Kuranda Envirocare for volunteer support. Kuranda Envirocare sought funding through a Terrain Natural Resource Management grant in mid-2015 to establish a task force of volunteers with a part-time paid coordinator.
Call to action
In June, a call to action was publicised on the front cover of The Kuranda Paper calling on volunteers to join a task force.
First survey and treatment by the Taskforce
In June, the first delimitation survey by the Taskforce was carried out by 20 trained volunteers on a Saturday. The Taskforce had successfully completed the survey, which had previously taken weeks, within a day. This was followed up by a treatment which included aerial baiting by helicopter and 15 taskforce volunteers. Most of the treatment was completed within two days on the weekend and the Green Army completed the remaining areas during the week. This had been the best treatment to date where previous treatments had taken weeks to complete. Gareth Humphries (Operations Manager from the Authority) provided basic training and safety.
Volunteers sign up
By July, the Taskforce had about 100 volunteers who helped with treatments, surveys, monitoring and community engagement.
The Taskforce conducted bait trials as required and scientific monitoring on a fortnightly basis for two years; first with three and then six transects. The monitoring program helped understand how to better target yellow crazy ants for eradication.
The Taskforce goes online
In July/August, volunteer recruitment was facilitated via a webpage and volunteer register on the Kuranda Envirocare website, along with a regular newsletter and dedicated Facebook page.
In September, residents of Russett Park, the Mareeba Shire Council, the Taskforce and Myola Fire Brigade worked together to control burn alongside the Barron River to clear access and prevent the risk of yellow crazy ants rafting down the river.
Fundraising kicked off through sales of the book ‘Eternal Endemism’, with $10 of each sale going towards the Taskforce volunteer amenities.
In late 2015, Mikhaila handed over the taskforce coordinator role to Sylvia Conway.
The Wet Tropics Management Authority applies for funding
In late 2015, the Authority developed a funding proposal for $15 million over three years as part of a proposed 10 year eradication program. The submission was provided to the Australian and Queensland Governments.
The community campaigns for funding
In March, The Kuranda Paper dedicated half a page to an article published in Wildlife Australia magazine by A/Prof Lori Lach and Dr Conrad Hoskins of James Cook University called ‘Too Much To Lose’ with a call to action to ask local politicians what are they doing.
The community launches a crowdfunder
In April, Kuranda Envirocare launched a crowdfunding campaign to kickstart a research project by James Cook University to study the phenology and ecology of the yellow crazy ant. This scientific understanding of the ants was vital for their successful eradication across the Wet Tropics.
The urgency of the crowdfunding campaign was critical due to an imminent baiting of the ants using a more effective ant bait—this would reduce ant numbers, resulting in a lack of ant colonies that could then be gathered for research, which would have delayed the research even further once government funding was available.
Kuranda Envirocare donated $5,000, while The Kuranda Paper donated $5,000 and generously promised another $5,000 if matched dollar-for-dollar by public donations up to $5000. The Kuranda Paper’s front cover and three-page article urgently called for public donations for the crowdfunding campaign. It also encouraged the Queensland and Australian governments to commit to ongoing funding of the Authority’s program to eradicate yellow crazy ants from the Wet Tropics.
The fundraising campaign raised the requested $20,000, and these funds kick-started the laboratory setup and collection of ant nests while ant numbers were still high.
Public media interest ramped up thanks to The Kuranda Paper, engaged stakeholders, local politicians and Kuranda residents. Resident Gayle Hannah’s letter to The Kuranda Paper (April 2016) called on State politicians as ‘Not Crazy Enough’ to the threat of yellow crazy ants in Kuranda and southern Cairns. Neil Boland’s letter to The Kuranda Paper (May 2016) highlighted the success of past eradication programs on invasive species and called on the community to donate to initiate research on yellow crazy ants and attract government funding.
Existing funding dries up
In May, The Kuranda Paper published a media release from the Wet Tropics Management Authority stating that baiting in residential areas would cease in late 2016 prior to project completion in 2017 to concentrate remaining funds on treating the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area and areas adjacent to creeks. The Kuranda Community Taskforce was scheduled to take on treatments at Russett Park indefinitely. Russett Park residents continued to assist the program in any way they could.
The community delivered and the Australian government committed to funding
In June, the front page of The Kuranda Paper congratulated twenty-four community members who raised $5,187.27 for the campaign.
On Friday 20 May, the Hon Warren Entsch MP announced further funding for the Authority’s Yellow Crazy Ant Eradication Program. He said that “unquestionably, the Kuranda community is a model for community engagement in dealing with issues like this and need to be recognised for their outstanding efforts.” Mr Entsch made the announcement in Kuranda so he “could acknowledge the fantastic advocacy of the Kuranda Media Association and The Kuranda Paper for matching the funds raised by the community. The efforts of the Taskforce were greatly influential in persuading the Federal Government to not only provide additional funding ($7.5million over 3 years) to the Wet Tropics Management Authority, but to include an additional $1.3 million to the package for tramp ant preparedness.” Mr Entsch also wrote a letter to The Kuranda Paper congratulating the Kuranda community for their proactive initiatives.
The Queensland governments commits to funding
Steven Miles, Queensland Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection, visited the Wet Tropics Management Authority to hear about the great work the community were doing to eradicate yellow crazy ants. Sylvia Conway and Frank Teodo (prominent local landholder in Cairns, badly affected by yellow crazy ant infestation) met with the Minister. The Queensland Government committed $3 million over three years to the Authority’s Yellow Crazy Ant Eradication Program.
Local fundraising continues
In September the Taskforce received $298 from a fundraiser run by the German Club in Cairns, along with $230 raised through a raffle in Kuranda. Local businesses donated prizes, particularly Seawalker, who also made ongoing donations.
In November, The Kuranda Paper’s front cover published a ‘thank you’ to major contributors: The Kuranda community, Kuranda Envirocare, Kuranda Media Association Terrain Natural Resource Management and Australian and Queensland governments. The update included progress reports from the Authority, Dr Lori Lach, the Taskforce coordinator and Neil Boland from Kuranda Envirocare.
The Taskforce recieves an award
In February, the Kuranda Yellow Crazy Ant Community Taskforce was congratulated for being ‘Highly Commended’ in the Premier’s Sustainability Awards.
The Djabugay Bulmba Rangers joins the Taskforce
In April, the local Djabugay Bulmba Rangers joined the Taskforce to assist with three-weekly monitoring of yellow crazy ants in Russett Park.
Community sustainability grant
A further Community Sustainability grant from Queensland Government in December allowed Kuranda Envirocare to partner with the Djabugay Bulmba Rangers to clear access routes, remove weeds and plant native trees: improving access for baiting and surveillance, and providing riparian connectivity for the Kuranda Tree Frog.
Regular media exposure
In February, the Kuranda Paper published the first dedicated monthly column to the Taskforce.
False positive detection
In April, the Authority detected further infestations of yellow crazy ants along a creek near Rosewood Drive. The treatment area was extended to 55.6ha. It was later found the infestation was a false positive—what they detected was not yellow crazy ants but a very similar native ant.
In May, Mareeba Shire Council supported the clearing of weeds followed by a cultural burn by the Djabugay Bulmba Rangers with the support of the Rural Fire Brigade. This was in preparation for a community tree planting event.
Celebrating the lowest number of yellow crazy ants detected, 20 years of Kuranda Envirocare and 30 years of Wet Tropics World Heritage
By December, surveys were showing ant numbers at an all-time low. The Taskforce and Kuranda Envirocare hosted a community tree planting day and street BBQ in recognition of the Community Sustainability Action grant. The event celebrated 20 years of Kuranda Envirocare incorporation, 30 years of Wet Tropics World Heritage and the successful push back of yellow crazy ants at Russett Park.
Detto’s sticky trap
Late 2018, the Taskforce contributed to the prototyping and manufacturing of ant traps (Detto traps—where ants are lured and caught on a sticky paper) trialled by the Authority as a new method of detecting low numbers of yellow crazy ants.
Early 2019, Ciara Bridgland starts as the new Taskforce coordinator.
New detection of yellow crazy ants
In February, a new infestation of yellow crazy ants was reported by a local resident on Green Forest Road, Kuranda. The infestation was delimited by March with a treatment area of approximately 16ha, covering seven properties.
The Australian government renews funding
In March, the Australian Government announced a renewed funding commitment of $9 million over three years to help control the spread of yellow crazy ants within and adjacent to the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.
T-shirts for the Taskforce
In April, the Taskforce launches a t-shirt and logo design competition with prizes donated by Rare Earth Oils, Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures, Bird World, Kuranda Koala Gardens, Steve Royster Art and Catherine Jacoby Art. (Competition was won by Kali Harriss —best adult t-shirt and logo design—and Selwyn Hughes, Max Brice and Jesse Baker from Trinity Bay State School—best junior t-shirt and logo design.)
By mid-2019, the Taskforce rebranded and removed ‘Kuranda’ from the name to include all community members.
The Queensland government renews funding
In June, the Queensland Government announced that it would fund the Authority $9 million over three years, matching the Australian Government’s commitment.
In July, the Taskforce hosted a BonANTza event at the Kuranda Recreational Centre. BonANTza was a yellow crazy and electric ant identification workshop, public voting on the best t-shirt and logo designs for the competition, and a BBQ celebrating five years of the Yellow Crazy Ant Community Taskforce.
In September, the Taskforce began an education campaign to spread awareness about yellow crazy ants with gardeners at community gardens in Holloways Beach, Edge Hill and Whitfield.
Fundraising for t-shirts
In November, the Taskforce raised funds to buy and print 50 t-shirts for volunteers. More than $800 was raised and prizes were donated by SNUBA Down Under, Reef Magic Cruises and Compass Cruises.
Electric ant blitz
In January, Kuranda got blitzed by the National Electric Ant Eradication Program in a two-day campaign to find electric ants. The Taskforce supported the search for electric ants and yellow crazy ants by surveying the nature strips along Kuranda’s streets. Two new infestations of electric ants were found, while no new yellow crazy ant infestations were detected.
Fury the odour detection dog
In March, Fury became the first odour detection dog team to be validated for detecting yellow crazy ants for the Eradication Program. With her handler Stuart Biggs, Fury is trained to detect very low numbers of yellow crazy ants and will be tasked to detect the ants at Russett Park.
Invasive species and climate change seminar
Also, in March, the Taskforce partnered with James Cook University’s Tropical Environments and Sustainable Sciences Seminars to host talks on invasive species and climate change. Speakers Dr Cath Moran, A/Prof Lori Lach and Mr Andrew Robinson delivered talks on climate change, invasive ants and citizen science. The talks were followed by a discussion panel that included Gary Morton from Biosecurity Queensland (electric ants) and Dr David Westcott from CSIRO. All speakers and panellists contributed their time and expertise to the seminar to share their knowledge with Taskforce volunteers and community members. At the same event, the t-shirt raffle was drawn.
First survey to detect no yellow crazy ants
In April the Authority completed a lure survey in Russett Park that detected no yellow crazy ants for the first time. The result was celebrated with a themed street BBQ in June.
The Taskforce surveys for yellow crazy ants at Russett Park
On 19 September 2020, the Taskforce went on the hunt to make sure that there were no yellow crazy ants along the Barron River opposite Russett Park. The survey area is on the edge of the Russett Park treatment area, within the 100-metre buffer of the infestation.
A sticky trap workshop of 14 volunteers baited 140 traps with the assistance of Jeff Jackson from Wet Tropics Management Authority. Traps were later set with GPS mapping in the field. The following week 5 volunteers returned to pick up the traps. No yellow crazy ants were detected.
If you think you have found yellow crazy ants
collect a speciman and report them to the Yellow Crazy Ant Eradication Program
on 1800 CRAZY ANT or 07 4241 0525