Sandra is a senior crimes and justice reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times.

Sniffer dogs put through paces at Tauranga port

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Lilly is cute, cuddly, and customer-friendly but don't be fooled - she means business when it comes to sniffing out potential biosecurity pests to help keep New Zealand safe.

Today, Ministry of Primary Industry (MPI) biosecurity detector dog Lilly and three other detector dogs showed off their skills at a demonstration outside the Port of Tauranga gates, as part of the Biosecurity Week's public day

The demonstration marked the start of Biosecurity Week in the Bay of Plenty region, which will run until November 25.

The event coincided with the first overnight stay for cruise ship Celebrity Solstice and marked the start of the high-risk season for pests entering New Zealand.

Lilly's trainer, who wished to be known only as Michelle, said Lilly, aged four-and-half, had paid for the cost of her training many times over.

Michelle put super sniffer Lilly through her paces watched by a large group of people including a number of cruise ship passengers.

The adorable beagle was easily able to pinpoint a banana hidden in a box, then a kiwifruit in a backpack among a bunch of boxes and luggage laid out on the ground.

Lilly had been donated to the Ministry by an Auckland family and proven highly successful as a biosecurity detector dog, Michelle said.

"Lilly's phenomenal and it's a privilege to work with her. She does absolutely great work because of her highly sensitive nose and her ability to detect lots of different odours."

Michelle said that included Lilly having detected lizards and snakes hidden inside a package at the Auckland International Mail Centre 18 months ago. The offender was subsequently identified and convicted.

MPI senior trainer Alan Willox said in conjunction with the new mobile biosecurity x-ray machines, detector dogs like Lilly were a vital tool because she could pinpoint exactly where any contraband was hidden within mail or a piece of luggage.

"Lilly is pretty tenacious and she's excellent at her job,"Mr Willox said.

Mr Willox said MPI used mostly hunter dogs and beagles made great biosecurity dogs because they would work "all day every day" and were very focused on the task.

MPI also has a beagle breeding programme that had proven 100 per cent successful.

Celebrity Solstice passenger Pam Finlayson from the UK said she "got sniffed" during a biosecurity search of all the passengers luggage.

"It's great to see these lovely dogs helping protect New Zealand from unwanted pests.
Clearly they have a phenomenal sense of smell and it makes sense to use them."

Port of Tauranga commercial manager Leonard Sampson said Biosecurity Week provided a good opportunity to strengthen the awareness of biosecurity risks within the community.

More facts about MPI biosecurity detector dogs


MPI bought the first beagles in 1995
60 biosecurity detector dog teams operate at NZ's border
Cost $20-$40,000 to train
Training takes about 16 weeks
Can sniff out meat, vegetables, fruit, seeds, and plant materials

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