1. Animal Husbandry

Bee-Saving Dogs: Dogs to Sniff Off ‘American Foulbrood in Beehives’

Vipin Saini
Vipin Saini

A project backed by Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) will seek to train dogs to sniff out the highly infectious bacterial disease American Foulbrood in beehives, aimed at saving the industry millions.

Dogs will be trained to sniff out the highly infectious bacterial disease American Foulbrood (AFB) in beehives could save New Zealand’s beekeeping industry several million dollars a year.

The MPI is expected to contribute $50,000 through Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures (SFF Futures) towards the one-year, $95,000 project.

The project aims to develop a scientific methodology for training detection dogs to reliably detect AFB, by creating a ‘scent picture’ of the disease.

It’s led by Down Under Honey, in partnership with Pete Gifford from K9 Search Medical Detection Training Centre and Massey University researchers. The project is also being supported by the Southern North Island Beekeeping Group and the Honey Industry Trust, which have contributed funding and will help with fieldwork.

Jason Prior, owner of DownUnder Honey said that “A big part of the project is trying to come up with a pure form of the disease that can be grown in the lab, with no possibility of other scents in the mix, this will be introduced to the dogs through a clinically sterile environment.

Previously dogs were trained on infected colonies without isolating the target scent. This project aims to overcome this issue, and produce more reliable detection dogs. The new training will focus on detecting actual AFB spores and other relevant AFB bacteria that have come directly from a laboratory.

Overseas, AFB has been managed through use of antibiotics but the disease has developed resistance over time.

New Zealand has always treated the disease through destruction of hives and hive equipment, which has a significant cost to industry. New Zealand’s apiculture industry currently pays over $2 million in annual levies for beehive inspections. The industry’s ultimate goal has been to eradicate AFB, which would be a world first.

MPI director of investment programmes Steve Penno said the project could be a game changer for New Zealand’s apiculture industry.

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