Sat, Jun 05, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Tourists turn toadbusters in Australia

AFP , SYDNEY

Tourists tramping the wilds of Australia’s northern tropics could soon become “toadbusters” in an unusual plan being mulled by officials to combat a noxious plague of cane toads.

Darwin city’s Lord Mayor Graeme Sawyer wants permission for tour operators to offer special night missions to the spectacular Kakadu wetlands to collect the warty, toxic pests, which have reached epidemic proportions.

Some reptile and frog species are on the brink of extinction after eating the poison-secreting amphibians, which number some 92 million in the Northern Territory and are decimating food supplies for a wide range of wildlife.

“It’s an unstoppable march,” Sawyer said. “They’ll eat basically anything that moves that’s small enough to fit in their mouth. The implications of that biomass of toads is quite significant.”

Park rangers had rejected previous proposals that tourists hunt the pestilent creatures during overnight walks and camps in Kakadu, but Sawyer said the scale of the problem had made creative approaches more urgent.

“Some of the tour operators have been telling me that they would love to take their visitors on backpacker tours where they go camping in Kakadu for five nights or something like that, and while they were doing night-time walks they could pick up cane toads,” Sawyer said.

“It’s a fascinating look at the nocturnal wildlife in Australia, but at the same time gives you a sense of achievement, you’re doing something to help,” he said.

Toadbusting tourists would be given gloves and bags to help with their task and local animal workers would collect the spoils for gassing and burial.

A similar initiative, the annual Great Toad Muster in neighboring Western Australia, netted an average 50,000 toads over four weeks and was a great success, the lord mayor said.

It was “possibly not” a pursuit for the faint-hearted, he laughed, “although it might be a good way to overcome those fears.”

Cane toads were introduced to Australia from Hawaii in 1935 to control scarab beetles. Their poison, carried in a sac on the back of their heads, kills pets and wildlife and can injure humans.

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