I am shocked at the number of cane toads in Brisbane and wonder why the residents of Brisbane have allowed this to happen. Two years ago, in Roma Street Parklands (an exotic garden with high-rises towering at one end) I saw a cane toad riding a water dragon. A small group of bystanders gasped in horror. The pink toad, with its robust thighs and humanoid arms, looked like a naked imp in an Hieronymous Bosh Judgement Day. Obviously it was attempting to copulate with the lizard, in an ecologically blasphemous act. But Brisbane is an ecologically blasphemous state in an ecologically insulted Australia. What does it tell us about the progress paradigm to have to live with a constant plague of ugly flesh-pink toads like helpless Biblical Egyptians?
Back in Brisbane for a while
We used to have a lot of articles from Queensland on candobetter.net. That is because the person who built candobetter.net, James Sinnamon, lived, networked and campaigned politically there. Due to a severe injury when his bicycle collided with a car, he now lives in Melbourne. However he still has to travel to Brisbane from time to time and we are down here on business again. The dogs are with us this time. They are becoming grey nomads.
From Melbourne to Brisbane we drove down or up or round (depending on your orientation) via the Newell Hwy and sadly saw nearly 50 kangaroo corpses and only two live kangaroos on the way. We also encountered a herd of cattle grazing the long paddock with only a temporary sign warning us 'Cattle on Road', yet no-one had skittled them. It was a long time since I had met cattle this way and I felt nostalgic to see the pleasant way they negotiated our passage. The Newell Hwy is old fashioned country compared to the coastal route to Brisbane. There was almost no traffic day or night Sunday and Monday until late afternoon of Monday, when trucks appeared. We entered Brisbane via the vast martian-like canals of the Ipswich Motorway, where everything natural vanished.
Scarce Brisbane parkland and waterways full of poisonous toads
Brisbane presents fewer opportunities for dogs than Melbourne still does. Despite the superficial leafy appearance of this overpopulated, overdeveloped city of once-was-beautiful-Queensland, parks are small and far between. Creek banks may be privately owned by householders and so, disastrously, Queensland lacks Victoria's saving grace of many paths along creeks and rivers. Lack of access to the privately owned banks of waterways cannot help in controlling this pest.
Cane toads in Woolcock Park, Ashgrove in Enoggera Creek Catchment
We took the dogs for a walk on Tuesday evening to diminutive Woolcock Park, Ashgrove, fifteen minutes away. Woolcock Park is on Ithaca Creek, part of the Enoggera catchment. The dogs were off their leashes for less than a minute when we realised that dusky pink cane toads dotted the lawn and pathway with the density and regularity of motifs on a green Axeminster carpet. Movement in any direction threatened a squelching collision with a motionless toad. They waited like chess pieces, staring into middle distance, apparently oblivious of other forms of life. They moved sluggishly away only if you jumped up and down right next to them.
Fortunately the dogs (from Victoria) entirely failed to react to the toads, maybe due to the lack of movement, or maybe because they are so far outside their concept of local ecology. They seem not to notice fruit bats either or the highly decorative and varied presence of lizards and geckos here. But then their eyesight and hearing is appalling. They are both 15 this year.
I've seen cane toads in Brisbane before. They were very visible in 2006-7 when I first started visiting the city frequently, but then the numbers seemed to die down. I was last here about a year ago and looked out for them but saw none. I have often walked in Woolcock Park before.
No accurate count of cane toads in Brisbane
On June 27, 2015, Natalie Bochenski reported that they might be on the decline, but cited Professor Rick Shine, who admitted that we are not collecting any useful statistics on their numbers.
"We don't really have good data to tell us just how much their numbers have dropped," he said. "But it is clear that in many of these areas where they were once very common, the numbers are much lower than they once were."
Seemingly hedging his bets, the professor also suggested that perhaps locals are simply becoming used to the multitude of cane toads and noticing them less.
This year, February 2016, however, it seemed to us, as regular visitors, that the population has jumped by an order of magnitude on the visible plague of 2006-7. This is alarming when you think of the harm to local wildlife, as well as to pets. What does it tell us about the progress paradigm to have to live with a constant plague of ugly flesh-pink toads like helpless Biblical Egyptians? Granted, we were reacting to the plague we saw at Woolcock Park Ashgrove, but Enoggera Creek flows from Brisbane's main tropical forest and wildlife park, on Mount Nebo through a variety of suburbs that include Ashgrove and then into the Brisbane River. What would you think?
It seems to me that in a functional, healthy society this ongoing plague could not occur because school children and elderly people would be out there with spiked sticks and lidded buckets, removing the toads fifty at a time, then five at a time, then one at a time, scooping up their egg-slime, and placing barriers to their movement, until they were all gone. As the numbers dropped the many natural predators on their eggs would assist their decline. But Australians are coached by their top-down governments into passivity with the expectation of industrial solutions to any crisis or epidemic like this.
The dead weight of 'authorities'
When no industrial solution occurs, because we have no local chains of cooperation between neighbours or more widely, between citizens, we simply retreat from the problem. Even where a local group does begin to fight back, it is very hard for them to persist, since all kinds of authorities will tell them that their efforts are useless. Such as:
"Myth 8: We can control cane toads by catching them and killing them.
I’m sure you’ve seen all the well-meaning toad control groups that go out in their numbers to catch the toads. Unfortunately, it is all to no avail. The only way to eradicate a species by this means is to remove them beyond a rate at which they can reproduce. This works well for species with a long gestation (e.g., horse, camel, etc), but not for toads. A female can produce 30,000 eggs in just one clutch, and a single one of those eggs can yield a mature toad in just a few months. Miss just a few toads and the number will bounce back just as quickly. In fact, as you have just removed all their competitors, it makes it that much easier for those left to survive. Despite all the hard work that goes into it, population surveys have revealed that the rate of expansion of the toads is just as fast as before any control measures were taken." http://blogs.unimelb.edu.au/sciencecommunication/2011/04/18/myth-busting-monday-cane-toads/
Government policy vs Government action
Conversely, a Commonwealth Government policy statement on the toads, tells us:
It is possible to control cane toad numbers humanely in a small area, such as a local creek or pond. This can be done by collecting the long jelly-like strings of cane toad eggs from the water or by humanely disposing of adult cane toads. Control is best at the egg or adult stages because cane toad tadpoles can easily be confused with some native tadpoles. Adult cane toads are also readily confused with some of the larger native frogs. Care should be taken to ensure you can correctly identify your local frog fauna before you become involved in projects to remove cane toads from the environment. This approach to cane toad control requires ongoing monitoring of the creek or pond. Fine-mesh fencing can also assist in keeping cane toads from ponds that are in need of special protection. http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/invasive-species/publications/factsheet-cane-toad-bufo-marinus
But, for all such policy statements, does any government continue to actively educate, support and promote local people to carry out these controls? No. A paltry couple of million was spent in 2009-10; some on research, a little on funding local eradication efforts. Maybe it actually worked and that is why the numbers seemed to some people to go down. How would we know if there is no careful monitoring? Although the impacts of the cane toad are listed as a key threatening process under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), it is clear that Commonwealth, State and local governments remain effectively indifferent to this scourge.
Queenslanders thus appear to leave their parks, gardens and naturestrips to be overrun by cane toads, just as they have left their political system to being over run by Liberal, Labor and Green political parties representing developer-interests. It's easy to flog real-estate to overseas investors even if Brisbane itself is becoming unlivable due to its colonisation by cane toads and developers. Beautiful one day, built-over the next.
It is more likely that someone will find a way to sell cane toad hallucinogens and profit from the plague than that we will defend nature from the cane toad. Similarly, corporate profit from housing inflation is so much better organised than any democratic efforts to defend Australian civil society from the growth lobby by countering the engineering of human population numbers upwards. We are encouraged to believe we are helpless in the face of Australia's increasing numbers, as if it had always been so, as if immigration were a right to move anywhere that overwhelmed all civil rights once you got there. 'Industrial' solutions are proposed: negative gearing for new housing in order to meet the 'challenges'; more immigrants' rights in order to overwhelm the faint protests of squeezed out residents.
The link between these various plagues is not all that obvious, but it lies in a systemically induced passivity - a loss of self-detirmination on an ecological and a political level.
Brisbane Council relies on one small cane toad dog to defend Morton Island from the encroaching plague
Brisbane Council proudly announces that Morton Island is still free of cane toads and it apparently employs one small dog to keep it that way. Enough said. We obviously need a new government here.
Brisbane Council's policy on cane toads.
In 1935 the Queensland Government introduced the cane toad (Rhinella marina) to control cane beetles. The experiment failed and the cane toad population spread to New South Wales, Northern Territory and Western Australia. Cane toads continue to move into other states, but temperatures, shelter, food and water limit their breeding capabilities. They are present in coastal dunes, woodlands, rainforest and freshwater wetlands, but can also adapt to urban areas.
Although regarded as undesirable, the cane toad is not officially declared a Queensland pest. However, Moreton Island is one of a few locations in costal Queensland where cane toads are not established. Brisbane City Council employs Bolt, a cane toad detection dog, to sniff out cane toads who may have hidden in camping or fishing gear. #moreton">Watch a video of Bolt in action and find out how you can help him keep Moreton Island cane toad free.
Cane toads have:
- coloured brown, olive-brown or reddish
- thick, leathery skin
- a visor or awning over each eye
- bony ridge extends from eyes to nose
- small feet, with claw-like un-webbed digits to dig
- two large toxin-filled parotid glands behind the ears.
They may appear dry, are heavily built and can reach up to 20 centimetres in length.
Males have more wart-like lumps than the females.
Cane toads cause environmental damage including:
- producing venom toxic to native species
- having toxic life stages
- affecting water quality
- eating small reptiles and mammals, insects and birds
- displacing and out-competing native species for food and resources.
The social harm caused by cane toads includes:
- transmitting diseases including salmonella
- causing toxic illness or death to humans and domestic animals if venom is ingested. Symptoms include:
- accelerated heartbeat
- breath shortness
- excessive saliva.
- causing pain if their venom enters the eye
- infecting any pet food or water left out.
The economic impacts of cane toads include:
- reducing water quality in small catchments
- decreasing the tourism value of natural areas.
Prevention and control
Cane toad prevention and control is the landowner's responsibility.
Mature female cane toads lay thousands of eggs per season in long, clear gelatinous strands with black eggs. Developing tadpoles appear as a black bead strand and, once developed, continue to appear black.
To remove eggs, use disposable gloves and:
- lift out of water
- put the egg strand in bag and throw out or
- lay the eggs in the sun and dry.
Cane toads don't climb well or jump high. Fencing should be:
- fifty centimetres high
- made of moulded plastic or metal.
Please note that fencing may also exclude some native wildlife species from the water body.
Natural exclusion barriers can cane toad-proof areas, provided they are well-positioned with no holes. Barriers include:
- small, dense bushes
- other natural objects including rocks and logs.
Watch the video about Bolt, the cane toad detection dog, who went to Moreton Island recently to sniff out these poisonous pest toads.
Beautiful Moreton Island is one of Brisbane’s major natural areas. It is one of a few locations in coastal Queensland where cane toads are not established.
Cane toads are hitchhikers and can hide in camping and fishing gear. Make sure you check your gear before travelling so you don’t bring any unwanted guests.
Bolt can sniff out cane toads but you need to be vigilant too. Report cane toad sightings on the Island to the rangers and help keep Moreton Island cane toad free.
Help keep Moreton Island cane toad free
Alternatively, you can view Council's document about Moreton Island find some tips which may help you.
- Keep cane toads off Moreton Island fact sheet (PDF - 1Mb)
- Keep cane toads off Moreton Island fact sheet (Word - 197kb).
To find out more about cane toads or to report large sightings, visit the Queensland Government's Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry website.