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Baseball-sized snail destroyed in Australia to protect crops

By Michael Sin

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A baseball-sized snail with an insatiable appetite for hundreds of plants including cocoa and papaya has been seized and destroyed by Australian officials, who said it posed a huge threat to local agriculture.

The animal was found creeping across a Brisbane shipping container yard and identified as a giant African snail, an East African pest capable of growing up to 30 cm (12 inches) long and one kg (2.2 lb) in weight.

It is known to eat 500 different species of crops, fruits, native Australian plants and even other giant African snails, according to an Australian government website.

"Giant African snails are one of the world's largest and most damaging land snails," said Paul Nixon, acting regional manager at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, in a statement.

The snail can lay 1,200 eggs a year, tolerates extreme temperatures and has few natural enemies in Australia. It also carries parasites that can infect humans with the disease meningitis, which can in some cases be fatal.

The last major Australian outbreak of the snail was in 1977, when 300 giant snails were exterminated in Queensland in an intensive eight-month campaign of community education, baiting and snail collection.

The snail was destroyed and officials inspected the container yard and found no evidence of additional snails, eggs or snail trails. They will continue surveillance into next week.

"Australia's strict biosecurity requirements and responsive system has so far kept these pests out of Australia, and we want to keep it that way," Nixon said.

(Editing by Elaine Lies)

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