It’s no secret that cane toads are a blight on Australia’s natural fauna. This is particularly true in WA’s Kimberley region, where there is a large range of biodiversity negatively affected by the poisonous toad. With the help of Indigenous Rangers, a radical plan has been implemented to stop the toads wiping out native species.
Traditional Owners recently gathered at Fitzroy Crossing for a briefing on the strategy created by Macquarie University and the Parks and Wildlife Service WA (PWSWA), which involves releasing small cane toads ahead of large toads at the invasion frontline to prevent mass extinction.
Macquarie University’s Dr Georgia Ward-Fear said by releasing very small cane toads, predators get sick but don’t die and steer clear of bigger toads when they arrive.
“The science says that all of our native predators impacted by cane toads can learn to avoid cane toads if they have a small dose of toxin first,” Dr Ward-Fear said.
Released in areas with the highest conservation value, this is where Indigenous Rangers become key.
“They are our ‘consultants for country,’ identifying areas of high biodiversity, providing ecological understanding of local areas and helping to run the works on the ground,” Dr Ward-Fear said.
Parks and Wildlife Service Cane Toad Education Officer, Dian Fogarty explained that since their introduction to Queensland in the mid-1930s, cane toads have changed.
“They have evolved longer legs, they’re bigger, stronger, faster and they’re continually heading west.”
When attacked, cane toads excrete a poison and doses from large toads kill rapidly, with some predators dying before even swallowing a toad.
Several species have been severely impacted, including goannas, snakes, freshwater crocodiles, northern blue tongue lizards and northern quolls.
Yellow spotted monitors, a large type of goanna, can suffer declines of 90 percent through to local extinctions.
Toads on the move
Cane toads are now roughly halfway across the Kimberley. They have been seen in low numbers around Fitzroy Crossing for two years and have reached the Mitchell Plateau in the Kimberley’s north, possibly reaching Broome in two to five years.
Both Macquarie University and PWSWA are members of the Cane Toad Coalition – a group of research, conservation and land management organisations trialling the largest cane toad mitigation strategy to date: teaching native predators not to eat toads.
Other members of the Coalition include the Kimberley Land Council, Australian Wildlife Conservancy, Dunkeld Pastoral Co Pty Ltd, Rangelands NRM, Matso’s and the World Wide Fund for Nature Australia.
WWF’s Conservation Field Officer for the Kimberley, Ellie Boyle, said the Cane Toad Coalition wants to prevent localized extinctions.
“The Kimberley is a unique place and we’re really lucky that we’ve not seen any species extinctions in this region. However, with toads continuing their march west a lot of our native animals are facing a huge threat,” Ms Boyle said.
Indigenous Ranger groups across the Kimberley who work together as part of the Kimberley Ranger Network are proving critical to reducing the cane toad’s impact.
Balanggarra Ranger James “Birdy” Gallagher, based in Wyndham in the Kimberley’s northeast, witnessed the devastation after toads arrived on Balanggarra country.
“There were dead goannas everywhere. One creek we walked up we found 20 dead goannas. It’s really shocking, a bit disheartening and a bit sad,” Mr Gallagher said.
To help protect the native species against the arrival of cane toads, visit: www.wwf.org.au/toadpatrol.