Creepy crawlies spark surge in phone calls

By Carmen Hall

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MPI encourages anyone suspicious of an exotic, new or emerging animal or plant disease or pest to call the 24-hour exotic pest and disease hotline 0800 809966.

The exotic pest and disease free hotline received 9926 calls last year, including 316 from the Bay of Plenty.

Figures released under the Official Information Act show from January 2014 to the end of March 3818 calls were lodged nationwide, 118 from the Bay of Plenty.

Ministry for Primary Industries director for investigation and diagnostic centres and response Veronica Herrera said it was originally set up in the 1990s for reporting suspect cases of exotic animal disease with a particular emphasis on foot and mouth.

But as interest in biosecurity increased and occurred it was more actively promoted, she said.

"This has resulted in a steady increase in the hotline. Its scope has subsequently expanded to provide a single point of contact with MPI to report suspected cases (introduced to New Zealand) of exotic land, freshwater and marine pests or exotic diseases in plants.

"The hotline is now a very important component of protecting New Zealand's biosecurity."
Calls were addressed by different teams within MPI depending on the reason for the call and the most common public inquiries team calls related to large spiders.

"These typically turn out to be New Zealand native species such as the large brown vagrant spider."

The animals and marine team's most common calls were reports of "hitchhiker pests" that were usually lizards, geckoes or frogs that had entered a travellers' baggage at an overseas location.

Common animal disease calls came from veterinarians and veterinary laboratories when unusual signs were seen in animals that had a potential to be an exotic disease agents - anaemia in horses and skin and mouth lesions in cattle and sheep.

Marine species found growing on the hulls of boats and insects like rice weevils and the meal moth that infested dry food also prompted calls.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council senior biosecurity officer Shane Grayling said staff who found anything they were concerned about would contact MPI.

It was responsible for deciding the appropriate response to inquiries received over the hotline, although the council might be asked to assist with any investigation or response, he said.

"Council are part of the National Biosecurity Capability Network and have committed to provide staff and resources, if required, to respond to a national biosecurity emergency."

The council responded to several queries from the public each year and in 2011/12 responded to more than 1100 inquiries.

"Most of these inquiries relate to pests common in the Bay of Plenty that we manage through our Regional Pest Management Plan."

The hotline costs about $60,000 per annum to run and about $1.6million per year for teams to investigate cases, Ms Herrera said.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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