The Sun Sentinel
"As South Florida's foreign invaders go, the giant African land snail ranks pretty high on the yuckiness meter: They're not only slimy and smelly, they can also devastate crops, sicken humans and even gnaw the stucco off your home. The oversized, mucus-drenched mollusks are poised to move north from Miami-Dade County, where agriculture officials are preparing to unleash dogs in their two-year battle to wipe out the pest.
Originally from East Africa, mainly Nigeria, the snails can grow to 8 inches long by 4 inches wide and live up to 8 years.
The exotic mollusk carries a parasite in its mucus that can transmit a rare form of meningitis to those humans who touch it. The meningitis, which in humans causes swelling of the brain's lining, has no cure.
"Religious practitioners from Nigeria have been known to use these snails in their religious practices," agriculture department spokesman Mark Fagan said. "They are used to foretell a practitioner's future health, prosperity and spirituality." Federal authorities theorized they were smuggled into the country by practitioners of Ifa Orisha, a Santeria-like African cult whose leader, Charles L. Stewart of Hialeah, urged congregates to drink the snail's juice. The health question was quickly answered: Those who sipped snail soup became violently ill.
Two Labrador retrievers are now undergoing training at a U.S. Department of Agriculture facility in Georgia, and they will be deployed next spring to sniff out the snails, who have a distinct odor. The snail-detecting dogs will join a force of 50 snail hunters, along with a public awareness campaign. The snail-detecting dogs are trained to avoid contact with their prey, and simply to alert to their presence.
A 4-year-old German shepherd that lived in an infested neighborhood in Kendall did not have that advantage. The snails are suspected of infecting the dog, which went deaf and blind after contracting meningitis and had to be put down.