It’s the culmination of a seven-year, million-dollar project: Teams with the Department of Agriculture and the Division of Plant Industry worked to capture giant African land snails and eliminate them from communities across Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
The first giant African land snails since the 70's were discovered near Douglas Park in Miami back in 2011. Now, after over 168,000 snails were collected, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried came back to Miami to declare they’ve been eradicated.
“Today’s an exciting day,” Fried said.
State officials say community members played a key role.
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“If we didn’t have the public on our side, homeowners bringing out bags of snails, this never would’ve worked,” said Dr. Trevor Smith, the director of Division of Plant Industry.
The giant African snails ballooned in population after being discovered in Miami back in 2011. That's when state officials started working on getting rid of the snails. They started asking for the public's help to identify the pests, which can cause meningitis in humans and are a significant threat to landscapes and crops.
“When we are ready to search a property, we will ask them to find it,” said Lorena Dewitz, an environmental specialist of the canines used by the Department of Agriculture.
Dogs were trained to smell for the snails and played a key role in finding them during the outbreak.
“They’ll sniff in a pattern, covering all the area, and if they find a snail, they’ll sit,” Dewitz said.
Over 168,000 African snails were collected by the state.
“I know when I first came in, we said we are getting close, so it’s exciting to see that we haven’t seen them for three years and can declare eradication,” said Fried.
The last outbreak prior to this one can be traced back to 1966 when a kid brought back three African land snails from Hawaii to give to his grandmother as a gift — that grandmother threw out the snails in her garden and an outbreak started, as easy as that.