Tuesday, 21 February 2012

the Tale of the Cane Toad


Australia vs. the cane toad: Fair fight?

22 million Aussies take on 2 billion cane toads as they continue their relentless hop through the country

A plague of cane toads -- the Godzilla of the amphibian world --

The author describes the can toad as a monstrous creature.

is overrunning Australia. Breeding faster than rabbits, impervious to predators, the cane toads are gradually making their way south and west across the continent.

And Australians seem powerless to stop them.

The author believes Australians are unable to do anything to stop the rapid breeding of cane toads.

The cane toad -- "Bufo marinus" -- was introduced to Australia in 1935 to keep down pests. It can locate food by smell, shrug off water loss and migrate 85 kilometers during a wet season.

As drought-breaking rains have smothered the continent, the toads have gone forth and multiplied. And multiplied again. And again.

Once confined to tropical north Queensland, the toads have migrated as far south as Sydney and have swum, hopped and croaked their way through the Northern Territory, across to Western Australia.

It is estimated there may be as many as 2 billion cane toads in Australia. Dry and warty female toads can lay as many as 25,000 eggs at once.

A spokesperson for the federal Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, said, “There is currently no 'silver bullet' solution to cane toads.”

Native Australian animals are at the toads' mercy. They excrete Bufotenin, a mildly hallucinogenic, poisonous substance released from glands behind their eyes and back. Toxic, it is feared it could devastate native populations.

The author claims that native Australian animals cannot do anything to protect themselves against the cane toads.

Now, even the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals advocates euthanizing cane toads by freezing them.

The author emphasizes that even a society promoting the well being of animals wishes to get rid of the toads.

In Western Australia, the toads are preparing for their next invasion: the delicate and -– until now –- untouched eco-system of the Kimberly Ranges is at their slimy webbed mercy.

There seems to be no answer as Australia shakes its head and ponders that it only has itself to blame.

The author thinks that the situation is hopeless and that Australia can only blame itself for this.

While many people believe attempts to stop the all-conquering pest are futile, some communities are fighting back. Masses of volunteers are collecting toad corpses in a last-ditch attempt to protect their land.

The spread of the cane toad

The Queensland Government first imported cane toads from their native central and southern American habitat to contain cane field pests in 1935. Eating as many as 22 insects per feed, they were seen as an ideal solution.

They were also imported to the Caribbean, Florida and Pacific islands including Hawaii – where they now occupy every island.

In Australia, they have become a resilient, undeniable breed. Their migratory speed has increased eight-fold. They conquered Kakadu National Park a decade ago. It was federally declared a “key threatening process” in 2005.

This wet season, which brought floods to much of the continent, the amphibious attackers have made astounding progress.

They have spread as far south as Port Macquarie, and Sydney held its collective breath last year when micro colonies of the dreaded toad were found were found on the outskirts of the city.

They threaten sensitive populations of much-loved bell frogs, which are adorned in the green and gold national colors.

Professor Ross Alford, a tropical biologist at James Cook University, said, “They could certainly live as far south as Sydney. Some suggest they’ll make it all along the south coast to Adelaide.”

“The Queensland experience suggests [the cane toad] has effects but it doesn’t cause anything to go extinct. Lots of goannas die –- at the time it looks like a disaster, but they recover.”

Endangered quolls

“The exception are quolls (a marsupial predator) where populations crash but don’t recover,” said Professor Alford.

He said the cane toad is a ‘keystone predator’ and could have unknown effects on the eco-system.

A government spokesperson said, “The Threat Abatement Plan (2010) will help identify priorities and activities that could receive funding in the future.”

“(The) Caring for our Country project, through the University of Sydney, (is) targeting the impacts of cane toads on the northern quoll by training the quolls to avoid cane toads by providing small toads laced with a nausea-inducing chemical."

The community front lines

But it’s the cane toad's march through northern Australia that has communities concerned. Brown snakes, the sand goanna, the blue-tongued lizard and the frill-necked lizard are at its mercy. The cane toads look like prey, but any living thing that mistakes them for a native frog and eats them will surely die.

The toads are now in Western Australia and the government has allocated funds to community organizations on the front lines.

One such organization is the Kimberley Toadbusters, based at the foot of the fabled Bungle Bungles, a breathtaking, pre-historic mountain range.

“We’re at the front lines, the colonizing lines," says Lee Scott-Virtue of Toadbusters. "We’re pulling large numbers of toads out and getting at their breeding cycles.”

Along with her husband and son, Scott-Virtue initiated Toadbusters seven years ago and have gathered more than 7,000 volunteers, including backpackers. They work through the night, spotlights beaming and bags at the ready.

“It’s very addictive busting toads,” Scott-Virtue said.

The author implies that one can never stop get tired of busting toads, due to the simple reason that the toads are so populous and abundant everywhere, showing how successful the invasive species was.

Fight as they may, even Toadbusters concede that the invaders’ path into the Kimberley is only a wet season away. But they fight on.

“Toads are now hopping away instead of just sitting when walking up to them,” said Toadbusters administrative coordinator, John Cugley. “Gone are the days of seeing a toad on the road, having time to park the car and casually walk up to the toad. These days it is all split timing, otherwise they are off into the bush and the chase is on.”

Even in Queensland, the largely defeated locals are fighting back. A maverick state politician, Shane Knuth, has been inspired by a “Simpsons” whacking-day episode and initiated an annual Toad Day Out, which sees more than 10,000 toads captured and frozen. He pleads for everyone to play his or her part.

But it’s not a fair fight. The cane toad's progress seems relentless and the cane toad empire unstoppable. Will the final round go to Godzilla?

The author feels that the cane toads will succeed in the end, showing what an irreversible thing it is to introduce feral animals.

Tim Yap

No comments:

Post a Comment