August 5, 2005

Australia looks for ways to end cane toad menace

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australian scientists were given A$3.6
million ($2.7 million) Friday to find a biological way to
combat the rising population of poisonous cane toads.

The pests have spread across northern Australia since 100
cane toads were imported from Hawaii in 1935 in a bid to fight
greyback beetles, which were threatening the country's sugar
cane fields.

"The cane toad is a blight on our landscape," Australia's
Environment Minister Ian Campbell said.

He said the state-owned Commonwealth Scientific and
Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) will conduct research
into ways of manipulating cane toad genes to stop tadpoles from
becoming adult toads.

"While short-term measures like traps are important to slow
the toads down, their capacity to breed means we will not stop
them for good unless we find a biological solution," he said in
a statement.

Australia has fought the cane toad menace for four decades
but has been unable to stop the spread of the toxic creatures,
which have highly poisonous sacs behind their heads that
quickly kill native animals that prey upon them.

Cane toads now number in their millions and are so toxic
that crocodiles, death adder snakes and wild dingo dogs can die
of cardiac arrest within 15 minutes of eating them.

Australia's environment department says cane toads have
been expanding their range across tropical northern Australia
by up to 50 kilometers (31 miles) a year, while they are moving
south by about 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) a year.

Female cane toads can lay 8,000 to 35,000 eggs at a time
and may produce two clutches a year. The toads reach maturity
within a year and have a lifespan of at least five years.