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Friday, April 4, 2008

Australian MP proposes cane toad-killing day

Wood pigeon: average numbers per garden have jumped 665 per cent since 1979
Scientists are trying to develop a virus which will kill cane toads without harming other wildlife

Australian families have been urged to roll up their sleeves and embark on a slaughter of "the most disgusting creature known to man" - the cane toad - in a national day of amphibian pest control.

Queensland MP Shane Knuth called for a cane toad equivalent of Clean Up Australia Day, an annual event in which Australians scour the countryside for litter.

The fast-spreading cane toads are the country's most disliked introduced pest, their poisonous skin accounting for the deaths of millions of birds, crocodiles and other predators each year.

While admitting that he had, in the past, "belted toads with whatever I could get my hands on," including golf clubs and cricket bats, he said it was important that the toads be dispatched humanely.

Volunteers taking part in the 'Toad Day Out' would be encouraged to kill the creatures by placing them in plastic bags and dropping them in the freezer.

Their warty bodies would then be disposed of at special collection centres.

"Basically we need ... a special day that Queenslanders, especially children, could all play their part, very similar to Clean Up Australia (Day)," Mr Knuth said.

"The toad is probably the greatest environmental vermin and probably the most disgusting creature known to man.

"Each female toad can produce up to 20,000 eggs. If even 3,000 female toads were collected, this has the potential of eliminating 60 million toads hopping around our environment."

The conservative MP said he was deadly serious about the proposal.

"I would like the opportunity to present this to (newly-elected prime minister) Kevin Rudd. This is not pie in the sky stuff. This is reality."

The toad hunt would be best held in January, at the height of Queensland's rainy season, when the toads breed.

The Australian branch of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said it would support the mass cull but acknowledged that packing freezers up and down the country with toad carcasses would arouse distaste.

"Obviously we're not idiots - we understand a lot people will be highly reluctant to fill their fridges and freezers with dying cane toads, but at the moment that is the only humane way that we can recommend," said RSPCA spokesman Michael Beatty.

Conservationists warned that if the plan was to go ahead, it was vital that volunteers were taught to distinguish between cane toads, brought to Australia in the 1930s from Hawaii to control a sugar cane beetle, and native frogs.

Scientists are trying to develop a virus which will kill cane toads without harming other wildlife.

But Mr Knuth said finding a biological silver bullet for the invader could take decades.

"We will be waiting 50 years if we rely on science. This is a way that will solve the toad problem," he said.

It is not the first time he has demanded a war on cane toads. Last year he suggested that children should be encouraged to hunt them down and paid a bounty of 40 cents (20p) per animal, dead or alive.

Original here


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