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An adult male toad that didn’t get to stay at Woodford Island after Friday night. Photo: Kieran McAndrew

Cane toads hopping their way across the Clarence Valley

Emma Pritchard

They’re ugly, they’re poisonous, they’re invasive.

And they’re here, in the Clarence Valley.

Since their introduction into Australia 86 years ago, the cane toad has thrived and rapidly expanded its distribution since the first 3000 hopped into the cane fields of North Queensland after being released by the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations in an attempt to control the native grey-backed cane beetles which were decimating sugarcane crops and subsequently, impacting the Australian sugar cane industry.

With no natural predators or diseases which affect their population in the country, cane toad numbers exploded at an alarming rate and their presence has had devastating consequences for several native species including the northern quoll and red-bellied black snake, which often mistakes the cane toad for native frogs, only to succumb to their toxins after eating them.

After the first reports of cane toads in the Clarence Valley made headlines when the invasive species was discovered in Yamba in 2003, the recent devastating bushfires around Whiporie and Rappville, north of Grafton, have resulted in the creation of favourable travel routes for the ground-dwelling predator.

With areas of bushland and forestation cleared following the bushfires, cane toads have hopped their way south along the Summerland Way and breeched the southern containment line, the Clarence River, within the past 12 months.

In late 2020, a new population of cane toads was discovered at Mountainview, close to Grafton, when local landholders first became

aware of the recent arrivals after hearing them calling to one another across the paddocks.

A report was made to the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) who alerted local organisation Clarence Landcare to the huge biosecurity risk on their doorstep.

Clarence Landcare Educational Officer Kelly McRae, along with coordinator Debbie Repschlager, attended properties in Mountainview and confirmed the presence of cane toads, prompting them to take evasive action.

Funded and supported by the New South Wales Government through its Environmental Trust, the Clarence Cane Toad Education Project in partnership with the DPI Invasive Species Unit, Clarence Valley Conservation in Action (CVCIA), Clarence Valley Council (CVC), Yaegl Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation and Office of Environment and Heritage (OHE) and National Parks and Wildlife Services, aims to raise community awareness of the invasive species and educate Clarence Valley residents of the importance of correctly identifying cane toads and managing their numbers on their properties.

“The number of cane toads is significantly growing in the Clarence Valley, especially considering the wet weather the area is currently experiencing, and we want to get the community actively involved so together, we can help to stop them spreading,” Ms McRae said.

“A lot of people don’t realise cane toads are in the Clarence Valley.

“We’ve had outbreaks at Brooms Head, Shark Creek and Gulmarrad, and it’s really important people become aware of them because they pose a huge biosecurity risk, not only to native animals within the Clarence Valley, but also to the environment and people’s pets as well.”

Utilising their funding, Clarence Landcare is enabling cane toad controllers to be on the ground throughout the Clarence Valley, speaking with community members and liaising with local landholders to encourage people to do their own cane toad control.

The Clarence Cane Toad Education Project is currently in a trial and testing phase in which Clarence Landcare is conducting social research in how best to support Clarence Valley residents manage the pest species.

It also has community members trialling a household cane toad collection kit which consists of different sized collection buckets, an information booklet and identification tool among other things.

Ms McRae said correctly identifying cane toads and native species including the ornate burrowing frog and the northern banjo frog which can be mistaken for cane toads, are key components in helping to control and irradicate the invasive pests.

Ms McRae recommends Clarence Valley residents visit the feral scan website at www.feralscan.org.au/toadscan/pagecontent.aspx?page=toad_toadsandnativefrogs to familiarise themselves with cane toads and how to report any sightings to relevant authorities.

She is also encouraging people to download the Frog ID app from www.frogid.net.au

“Once residents know how to identify a cane toad, humane methods can then be put into place to capture and destroy them,” she said.

Describing cane toads as quite easy to catch, Ms McRae recommends people use gloves or place their hand inside a plastic bag when picking up cane toads, therefore avoiding contact with the toxin produced by the bulging glands on their shoulders.

Once caught and secured in the plastic bag, the cane toad can then be placed into the fridge for up to 24 hours before being removed and put into the freezer for 48 hours.

Ms McRae said the cold temperatures lull the cane toads into a sleep state and therefore, they are humanely euthanised before they can be disposed into the red bin.

“It’s important that people ensure they are dead prior to being placed into the bin to reduce the risk of them escaping and subsequently, breeding again,” Ms McRae said.

“Our aim is to stop the cane toads before they damage our local environment and unique ecosystem.

“We all need to work together to prevent them spreading further.”

Clarence Valley residents are being urged to report any cane toad sightings to the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

Cane toad facts:

· Cane toads are native to Central and South America.

· They were introduced to Australia in 1935 as a means of controlling beetles which were damaging sugar cane crops.

· Cane toads are ground dwelling predators and eat terrestrial and aquatic insects, although people have also found them eating leftover pet food in outdoor bowls.

· They breed throughout the year but favour the wet season and prolonged periods of localised wet weather.

· Females can lay upwards of 30000 eggs per clutch and the young are poisonous at each stage of their life.

· Cane toads are highly toxic and produce venom from bulging glands on their shoulders and the poison is absorbed through body tissue during contact.

· Cane toads travel an estimated 60km into new territories and environments each year.

· The current number of cane toads in Australia is presently unknown.

· Cane toads can poison and kill household pets and it is advised that animals which live in areas cane toads have been found are kept indoors, especially at night.

· If you suspect your pet has had contact with a cane toad, contact your local vet.

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