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China lines up 'duck army' to fight plague of Pakistan locusts

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A swarm of desert locusts. Photo: REUTERS/Baz Ratner

A swarm of desert locusts. Photo: REUTERS/Baz Ratner

REUTERS

A swarm of desert locusts. Photo: REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Chinese officials are on standby to deploy an army of voracious ducks to help Pakistan fight locusts that are threatening to devour crops.

At least 100,000 of the specially raised waterfowl are expected to be sent to Pakistan later this year to combat a desert locust outbreak.

Chinese researchers have described the ducks as "biological weapons" and claimed they can be more effective than pesticide.

"One duck is able to eat more than 200 locusts a day," said Lu Lizhi, a senior researcher with the Zhejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences who is in charge of the project.

A trial to test the ducks' locust-eating prowess will begin in Xinjiang later this year, he said.

Chinese officials have this week visited Pakistan to advise on how to deal with what has been the country's worst locust infestation in more than 25 years.

A swarm of desert locusts is one of the animal kingdom's most awesome spectacles. The groups can be hundreds of square kilometres in size and contain billions of insects. The marauders can fly up to 150km per day and if good rains fall and conditions are favourable, can increase their numbers twentyfold in three months. Almost all crops and non-crop plants are vulnerable and the insects are one of the biggest threats to food security in large parts of the world.

An intervention in Pakistan would not be the first time that China has used ducks to combat locusts.

In 2000, an army of 700,000 specially trained ducks and chickens was mobilised to help fight China's biggest locust plague in 25 years.

The ducks deployed to Xinjiang had been trained to eat locusts at the sound of a whistle. Ducks were chosen after farmers first noticed chickens were fond of locusts. Experiments with waterfowl found that ducks ate twice as many and were less prone to being eaten by predators.

China has already announced that it is sending ducks to Xinjiang in case locusts spread from Central Asia. But United Nations experts last night said even the hungriest ducks would be overwhelmed by the size of the swarms. Keith Cressman, senior locust forecaster for the UN's at Food and Agriculture Organisation said: "There are not enough ducks and they cannot eat enough desert locusts to have a significant impact." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk