The biosecurity risk caused by the illegal transportation of prohibited meats, plants, seeds and produce into New Zealand is very real and the potential devastation to our native flora and fauna is huge.

This week six new MAF Biosecurity New Zealand (MAFBNZ) detector dogs started work at Auckland and Christchurch airports and the International Mail Centre in Auckland. MAFBNZ Detector Dog Programme Manager, Stuart Rawnsley, said the MAFBNZ detector dog programme trained both `passive` response dogs, like Beagles with natural scenting ability and high interest in food, as well as `active`, often mixed-breed dogs keen on play and retrieving. Both sniffed out meat, plants, seeds, live animals including snakes, animal products, and fruit and vegetables prohibited from entering New Zealand.

Mr Rawnsley said since 1996 when New Zealand first introduced its dog detector programme, Beagles had become a familiar sight checking bags at our international airports. At the same time, behind the scenes `active` response dogs checked goods and mail at Auckland`s International Mail Centre, air cargo companies and the country`s ports. Work by the dogs complemented other MAFBNZ tools, such as X-Ray machines

MAFBNZ leads a biosecurity system that works overseas to stop travellers and importers from bringing pests here, at the border to identify and eliminate pests that do arrive, and within New Zealand to find, manage or eliminate pests that have established here. Detector dogs played a vital part in helping protect New Zealand from introduced pests and diseases.

Mr Rawnsley said active response dogs were often obtained from dog pounds or the SPCA aged around 18 months. All the dogs underwent eight weeks initial training at Auckland`s Detector Dog Training Centre and worked with their Biosecurity Inspector handlers 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

`Finds` were rewarded with a pat and praise, a biscuit, or the chance to play with a favourite toy. New Zealand`s detector dogs had become world famous, with graduates of MAFs breeding programme currently protecting borders in countries like Argentina, Canada, Hawaii and Australia.

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