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Managing pests, keeping the mission going

The Black Fat-tailed scorpion, one of the most dangerous scorpions on earth, has had its stinger removed to insure it is no longer a threat.

Senior Airman Lucas Argo, 386th Expeditionary Civil Engineer pest management and entomology flight, deployed from the 507th Air Refueling Wing, Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., holds a box containing a black fat-tailed scorpion and a keeled rock gecko at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Nov. 3, 2017. The 386th ECES uses these animals to educate the base populace on local wildlife. The black fat-tailed scorpion, one of the most dangerous scorpions on earth, has had its stinger removed to ensure it is no longer a threat. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. William Banton)

Feral dogs can be prone to fighting amongst themselves and are very protective of their young, which leaves the base populace at risk of being bitten.

A pack of dogs walk down a road on a Air Force base at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Nov. 1, 2017. Feral dogs can be prone to fighting amongst themselves and are very protective of their young, which leaves the base populace at risk of being bitten. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. William Banton)

Wild animals can damage perimeter fences by diggin wholes, which can cause security issues.

Master Sgt. Fabian Becerra, 386th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron pest managment and entomology noncommissioned officer in charge, sets an an animal trap at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Oct. 27, 2017. Wild animals can damage perimeter fences by digging holes, which can cause security issues. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. William Banton)

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- Faint discordant growls and barks drift across the dry weather-boned landscape.

Master Sgt. Fabian Becerra, 386th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron pest management and entomology flight noncommissioned officer in charge, deployed from the 507th Air Refueling Wing, Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, pulls over his truck to find the source of the noise coming from outside the base.

“The Rock [386th Air Expeditionary Wing] has had a few stray dogs here and there,” said Becerra. “Actually, yesterday morning we had a pack of dogs here on base, there were six of them. “

Becerra and his assistant, Senior Airman Lucas Argo, 386th ECES pest management journeyman, also deployed from the 507th ARW, have been up since dawn traveling the dirt roads of the installation perimeter, checking live traps and trying to capture the wildlife that could possibly pose a threat to the base population.

“We trap for feral animals; anything that is going to be considered a danger to the safety of the populace,” Becerra said. “We will get calls from [coalition partners] at night and they will have packs of dogs running through their base and underneath their trailers.”

Dogs cause damage to the perimeter fences by digging holes, which can cause security issues. The animals themselves are prone to fighting and become very protective of their young, which leaves base residents at risk of possible animal bites.

The goal for pest management and entomology is to keep the base’s insect, rodent and feral animal population at a manageable level, Argo said. To do this they use a variety of control measures, everything from setting up traps for feral animals, the use of rodenticides and pesticides to utilizing local animals.

Feral cats are occasionally rehabilitated and used as rodent deterrents to scare rodents away from buildings.

“There are [cats] on base, they are pretty tame but there are some out in the wild, if you catch, that will go berserk – it’s like a Tasmanian devil in a little cage,” Becerra said. “[Most] are not dangerous but if units want to keep them they have to get their shots, in case [someone] gets scratched or someone becomes sick by a bite.”

Pest management works with military veterinarians to ensure that these animals are appropriately vaccinated prior to letting them stay. They caution units to remember that these animals are tools for pest control and are not pets.

“I think it’s a problem whenever cats become comfortable and lazy,” he said. “They’re just not really doing their job anymore if people feed them all the time and keep them inside.”

Pest management is also responsible for controlling and identifying snakes and scorpions. Southwest Asia is home to many venomous snakes and scorpions including the Black fat-tailed scorpion. The scorpion is an extremely toxic, fast moving and an aggressive species which has the potential to kill a human within an hour of being stung.

“With snakes and scorpions and stuff like that, it’s our job to reduce and remove those populations from significant areas like tent cities,” Argo said. “Any time there is a disturbance like that, it is considered an emergency call for us.” 

Though their day-to-day job is important, their main focus is educating service members on what they can do to prevent problems from starting in the first place, Becerra said.

“We try to fix a problem before it becomes a problem,” he said. “We try to be proactive instead of reactive. We tell people that sanitation is the key, you know if they keep their areas clean it will help prevent [pest problems].”

As the faint growling subsides, Becerra puts the vehicle into drive and heads to check the nearest trap.

A few miles away, animal tracks can clearly be seen following the road, a tell-tale sign their day’s work has just begun.