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Wednesday, 12 July, 2000, 13:41 GMT 14:41 UK
Duck patrol advances on China's locusts
Duck army
The duck patrol advances on its deadly mission
An elite force of more than 700,000 ducks and chickens has been deployed as China's latest weapon to take on an invasion of locusts.

The poultry army has been sent to the western front in Xinjiang province where swarms of locusts have devoured more than 3.8 million hectares of crops and grassland.

We release them on the grassland, blow whistles and they eat the locusts

Xinjiang Locust and Rat Control Office
The birds are trained to seek out and consume the pests at the sound of a whistle which they have been trained to associate with feeding.

"We release them on the grassland, blow whistles and they eat the locusts", an official with the Xinjiang Locust and Rat Control Office is quoted as saying.

Duck on a mission: Elite commandos can devour up to 400 locusts a day
So far the birds have devoured more than 100 million locusts, officials estimate.

The deployment of the feathered force follows the introduction of a specially selected chicken army two years ago, designed to tackle a similar outbreak in the province.

However, officials later found that ducks were more efficient locust predators, able to gobble up more than 400 insects a day.

With the task ahead of them, they will certainly need a large appetite.

According to the China Daily, in some badly hit regions officials say the density of locusts has reached as high as 5,000 per square metre.

Locust swarm
Locust swarms have become an almost annual problem
Agriculture officials say hot weather and drought has fuelled the latest locust outbreak, thought to be the worst in a quarter of a century.

They are also pointing some of the blame at neighbouring Kazakhstan.

The central Asian republic was hit by its own plague of locusts last year, but was unable to afford the aerial spraying needed to destroy the insects.

Warning of disaster

The Chinese claim that eggs laid there last year have now hatched, and the insects moved into China.

However, environmentalists argue that the infestation, which has become almost an annual event, has been worsened by China's growing pollution and uncontrolled deforestation.

They point to the steady shrinking of the Yellow River and the alkinisation of the surrounding soil that has provided an ideal breeding ground for locusts.

Without immediate action being taken they say China faces an ecological catastrophe.

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See also:

15 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
China plagued by locusts
25 Aug 98 | Asia-Pacific
Fowl plot to hunt Chinese locusts
29 Apr 99 | Asia-Pacific
Locusts plague Turkmenistan
24 Jul 98 | Asia-Pacific
China's army of wasps
23 Jul 99 | Asia-Pacific
Locusts swarm across Central Asia
11 Oct 99 | Sci/Tech
Hopes for stopping locusts
27 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Australia faces plague of locusts
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