Cane Toads Invasion

Reporter: Natalie Bonjolo

Luc Longley says “they're coming, there's no doubt about that”

Winston Kay says “we've got a major battle on our hands”

We're deep in enemy territory, you can't see the attackers, but were surrounded by them, Graeme Sawyer says “I guess it really is a military scenario, the planning and so forth, the timing of attacks on cane toad infestations and stuff really needs to be looked at with military precision”

This is the war being fought against an enemy from within...Cane toads. Big ugly, bloated, cold blooded, killers. Graeme Sawyer says “You need precision type timing, and that's one of the really big problems you got a lot of country to cover and a lot of cane toads to get rid of” Graeme Sawyer's what they call a Toad buster. Based in Darwin, he's defending the nation from a cane toad invasion, and this is the first line of defence

This is the only way to get em, literally catch them with your bare hands? This is toad territory. The front line. Where cane toads are wiping out our native animals as they cross the continent. My mission, is to catch and bag as many as I can

Because toads are nocturnal, we fight them at night. Spotting the pests isn't a problem; not stepping on them istoads have no natural predators, so this is the only form of control. Literally plucking them off the ground. And with the cane toad population estimated to be more than 200 million....we're in for a long night

One down, two hundred million to go, that's ten toads to every person....make mine nine. But despite the best efforts of toad busting expeditions, we're losing the fight, “there is an alien invasion coming, it's by a creature alien to Australia, the cane toad“

Toads already have a strong hold across tropical Australia, and if they're not stopped, it's predicted they'll colonise every State in the country, even our cities Graeme Sawyer says “they're showing an incredible ability to adapt to new environments, they certainly love cities and people habitation provide them with refuge, food water”

Here in the NT the cane toads are in their millions and they're on the march, a few hundred km's that way is the WA border, where there's a major military exercise underway trying to stop them.

Winston Kay says “The basic problem is it's a vast area and we've only got a finite number of resources out there on the ground” The toads have infiltrated an area right on WA's doorstep. Toad busters are flat out defending the border, a frontline roughly the length of Tasmania. “They've colonized much of Queensland, they've moved south into New South Wales, west in the northern territory and they're about 160 km from the WA border”, CALM's Winston Kay is co-ordinating WA's tactical response, but they need help. The State Government is calling on the calvery, requesting the army be used to fight toads on the front line. “The more people out there in the field the better, and the more cane toads can be collected”

“it's quiet hard work, your slogging through the bush in the middle of the night”, doing his bit is former Chicago Bulls giant, Luc Longley, “they're nasty little, little just look at em you know there's something bad about em” The Perth basketballer's on the board of WA's militant outfit, Stop the Toad. “We're trying to build a strategy around how to corral them and contain them, push them back, and it's a daunting task” The toads first arrived in Australia in 1935. Just 102 of them. They were brought to Queensland from Hawaii, by farmers to fight the cane beetle. It didn't work, but the toads flourished. Graeme Sawyer says “I don't hate cane toads, but I absolutely hate what they're doing to the environment” toads aren't predators, but they do ooze a deadly toxin when attacked, in their native homeland, wildlife is immune to the poison, our animals are not”“Is it deadly? It kills animals so fast we've had photos of goannas with the toad still stuck in their mouth”, no-one's been killed by a cane toad, but the death toll among our native animals is in the millions.

Graeme Sawyer says “someone's actions 75 years ago to bring 102 of these animals has devastated Kakadu National Park and is threatening to wipe out the wild life in the Kimberley” To stop them taking over our tourist icons, Graeme's set up the world's first cane toad research and trapping station, just outside Darwin. How many toads have you caught in these traps? Umm were nearly up to 3000, the toads are lured into cages, by the promise of plenty to eat. “So they hop in here and can't get out again? Yeah this light comes on at night, fills the trap up with insects” and traps aren't only set in the wild, 1000's are caught in suburban backyards. Many of them are dropped off here, in the Cane Toad Detention Centre. Graeme says “at the moment were putting all the toads into a fertiliser process so they come out as liquid fertiliser”

The RSPCA says even toads deserve to be culled humanly. So in Darwin, that means you can trade a cane toad for a Coopers on tap. “You caught yourself a toad? I've caught a couple of toads , you want a beer, thank you very much” Brainchild of toad for a beer, Brett Simmonds gives away a free middy for toads trapped in the wet season, “one toad one beer simple at that.“ But there is a limit, and toads are handed over to the RSPCA, not over the bar. Brett Simmonds A lot of people loved the idea and they thought if they get a bucket of toads, they can get a keg of beer, but for every toad traded, another 33 000 tadpoles are born.

“We will hopefully stop the tadpoles maturing into fertile adults”, CSIRO scientists have been working on a biological control for several years, and Professor Alex Hyatt believes he could be close. “We're taking a gene essential for survival of adults and putting it in the virus to infect tadpoles” Basically that would mean releasing a genetically modifying virus, into toad populations. The research is still years away, but and even if it's successful, critics argue fiddling with nature's what got us into this mess in the first place. “We as a community have to decide on the risk associated with this, compared with the risk of cane toads”

Graeme Sawyer says “we won't have a biological control fast enough, what we need to do is hold the front line for another five or ten years even” If not, the experts reckon it's not a matter of 'if', but 'when', toads will be hopping down the terrace. Winston Kay says “they've already arrived in Perth in freight” If every Australian caught ten toads we'd put a dent in it? I reckon we'd do it, I reckon we'd put a huge hole in it. Luc Longley says “I tell you the one greatest arsenal is West Australians - we just got to get people behind it and people on the ground up there”

For more information on how to help fight the cane toad invasion: