from The Electronic Telegraph

Bush wildlife threatened by march of the toxic toads
                           By Barbie Dutter in Sydney

             Cane toads coming

             [18 Jan '01] 
AN army of toxic toads is on the march across Australia's Northern Territory, raising fears of an ecological and social catastrophe.

Conservationists said yesterday that the warty amphibians, which can grow up to nine inches in length, would reach the World Heritage-Listed Kakadu National Park within two weeks and nothing could be done to stop their inexorable advance.

They secrete a deadly venom when threatened and have already ravaged native fauna populations. Snakes, goannas (large Australian lizards) turtles and water birds have all fallen prey to the cane toads and even crocodiles cannot withstand their poison. Another of the toad's victims, a small marsupial called the Northern quoll, has been all but wiped out in some areas.

The toads are believed to be advancing across some of Australia's most remote and wildlife-rich provinces at a rate of 60 miles per year. Wildlife officials believe that their arrival in Kakadu could also have a devastating impact on self-sufficient aboriginal communities which rely on native animals for "bush tucker". Dr John Woinarski of the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission said: "A worst-case scenario would see these people forced to abandon their lands."

Cane toads (Bufo marinus) were imported to Australia in the Thirties in a misguided attempt to wipe out cane beetles that were destroying sugar crops. They have become one of the nation's most dreaded and dangerous pests. So far, attempts to eradicate the toads have met with little success.

The males' libido is legendary and females can lay up to 30,000 eggs per month. Some estimates place the current cane toad population at 100 million. When harassed they secrete a toxin from their pores that is fatal to humans if ingested. They can squirt venom a considerable distance, and animals that receive a dose can die within 15 minutes.

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2001.

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