Sydney — For decades, the poisonous cane toad has plagued Australians, breeding rapidly, eating voraciously and bestowing death upon most animals that dare consume it.
So officials came up with a novel — and, some say, poetic — solution: hold a festive mass killing of the creatures and turn the corpses into fertilizer for the very farmers who’ve battled the pests for years.
On Saturday, residents of five communities in cane toad-plagued northern Queensland state will grab their flashlights and fan out into the night to hunt down the hated animals as part of the inaugural “Toad Day Out” celebration. The toads will be brought to collection points the next morning to be weighed and killed, with some of the remains ground into fertilizer for sugarcane farmers at a local waste management plant.
“It’s just a circle of poetic justice!” Toad Day Out organizer Lisa Ahrens said. “Seventy-five years later, they’re a benefit to the cane farmer.”
The toads were imported from South America to Queensland in 1935 in a failed attempt to control beetles on sugarcane plantations. The problem? The toads couldn’t jump high enough to eat the beetles, which live on top of cane stalks.
The ample amphibians, which grow up to 8 inches in length, bred rapidly, and their millions-strong population now threatens many local species across Australia. They spread diseases, such as salmonella, and produce highly toxic venom from glands in their skin that can kill would-be predators. The toads are also voracious eaters, chomping up insects, frogs, small reptiles and mammals — even birds. Cane toads are only harmful to humans if their poison is swallowed.
“The cane toad is probably the most disgusting creature and the most destructive creature,” said Queensland politician Shane Knuth, a longtime loather of cane toads who came up with the Toad Day Out idea. “They’re killing our native wildlife, they’re taking over our habitat and they’re hopping all through this country.”