Field Coordinators response to W.A Today. 9th Dec 2010
Kimberley Toad Buster volunteers are all very proud of the ‘humane’ manner in which we dispose of the ‘cane toad’. As anyone who has worked with toads will testify, they are in-deed incredibly hardy and an animal worthy of both admiration and respect. Cane toads continue to amaze even the most seasoned of KTB ‘team leaders’ with their propensity to ‘colonize’ and push the boundaries of the ‘known science’ surrounding them. For these reasons alone, the thought of inadequately disposing of such an animal regardless of the fact that it’s an invasive pest is abhorrent and so far ‘outside’ K.T.B guidelines that it makes me personally feel ill just thinking about it.
There are of course some very important points that were omitted from the article that zoologist Peter Mawson from the DEC would have been fully aware of, yet perhaps in a ‘creationist’ pique forgot to mention. First and foremost, KTB had already undertaken scientifically controlled CO2 trials 2 years prior to DEC’s own ‘field based’CO2 trials, and received approval (on the outcomes of our CO2 field trials)from ANSCAART (Federal animal ethics committee for the ‘humane’ disposal of animals) to use CO2 as a euthanizing tool. Further-more it has only been through KTB putting pressure on the State Minister and DEC that we even managed to get the DEC trails applied to real field situations in the first place. .Prior to this Dr Mawson apparently felt comfortable enough to sit behind his own results of a trail conducted within laboratory conditions on just two toads. Not mentioned by Dr Mawson is that the DEC CO2 field trials emulated the KTB field results. He also fails to mention that he has never been in the field with KTB or he would have known that it is KTB practice not to bury toads until the morning after the toad bust and that the toads are left in CO2 filled bags for several hours. Or that a large percentage of toads are autopsied prior to being buried (can’t see these toads escaping their burial site) or that we have never buried tens of thousands of toads at one time. In fact it is a rare toad bust that ever brings in more than a few hundred at a time.
To help keep it all in perspective one needs to understand ‘why’ KTB wanted the use of CO2 as a euthanizing tool. As a community based organization, many of our volunteers are ‘minors’, many are of indigenous decent and any that have had the privilege of growing up in the far north can equally say it is ‘challenging’ environment to work in at times. KTB needed a tool that was easy to transport and ‘non-aggressive’ in its nature. Prior to CO2, the DEC had given us four methods, most unfortunately very aggressive, and all unsuitable given the isolated regions that KTB continues to work in. They are, blunt head trauma, (Giving a group of teenagers a hammer each is just asking for trouble) lethal injection, (syringes? C’mon reality check…) Modified nail gun and or pithing. ‘Humane’ for toads perhaps but what about ‘humane’ for human? The final DEC suggestion, and a method KTB does support, the cooling then freezing of toads. Unfortunately, the practicality of hauling fridges and freezers out bush isn’t great at the best of times and with the advent of the ‘wet’ completely impractical. This left KTB members looking at alternatives, and on the advice of an eminent biologist started trailing CO2 as far back as 2005.
Whilst I am on record saying “the only good toad is a dead toad” and will continue to question the undeniable red tape governing the eradication of what unquestionably is a major disaster for many native species, I do indelibly believe that the cane toad needs to be treated with the respect it deserves. This ethical view point is shared by all KTB team leaders and passed on to all volunteers within our organization. To view the history one only needs to check out our website www.canetoads.com.au and click on the CO2 debate link.
The last point I’d like to draw people’s attention to, a minor thing, but in context should alarm readers enough to question ‘why’ the DEC has such regulatory power when it’s so obviously staffed by people inadequate in their knowledge base, but still willing to disseminate misinformation from the highest of DEC levels.
“The only real change is the skin on the belly goes a lovely pink colour”
It has yet again been another busy festive season both at Toad HQ in Kununurra as well as at our Southern Depot, Nicholson Station. While KTB undeniably face a growing toad population in the agricultural area around Kununurra KTB are optimistic that the cane toad impact on our wildlife can continue to be mitigated as long as the exceptional response by residents continues. It is also clear to KTB that unless we continue to ‘deal’ with breeding population numbers, that is have the ability to wipe out successive generations of toads while still in their early stages of life, we can never win this battle. The evidence supporting this is the fact that the battle is now 76 years old and toads have now invaded almost the entire north of Australia. It is only in the last couple of years, due to community efforts and their focus on stopping successive breeding as toads made their way towards WA, that KTB can finally see some slowing down of the cane toad movement as well as a decline in the loss of some of our native wildlife (although far too many of our native species are still dying).
In the KTB office, with every call taken from a community member who has understood that looking after one’s own backyard is vital to the effort to keep toad numbers low, we are heartened. Every bag of toads left on the doorstep, with, more often than not, a note attached outlining where and at what time the ‘catch’ was taken helps define where KTB need to focus their energies rather than trying to ‘do it all’. Certainly, every photo we add to the growing collection of animals that have fallen victim to the toads (and while it causes pain) re-enforces why it continues to be so important for us all to ‘do our bit’. I’d urge anybody out there that might still harbor the ‘doubting Thomas’ to pop by the office and peruse through our data results. It WILL change your view on the impact an empowered local (volunteer) community can make.
Areas KTB volunteers have toad busted
We need to keep in mind that there are many residents that are looking after their own backyards including streets and whole areas. Since the KTB Educational “Adopt a Street” Campaign the response from community has been enormous and the whole community is ‘doing its best’ and while we receive much of this information and data I am only going to list the places (volunteer organised KTB toad busts gathering conclusive scientific data) that have been conducted over the last month.
Kununurra Irrigation area.
This is an area that KTB are finding requires a considerable amount of KTB volunteer time. The Ord River District Co-operative has been incredibly supportive and without their assistance in getting the cane toad message out to growers in the Ord Valley it is doubtful KTB would have had the support we have to move field operations into toad threatened areas.
Thank-fully continued support from agriculturists allowing KTB access through their land has kept us on top of each new toad wave our inclement weather brings. Places like the ‘Sandalwood café’, Spike Desserts ‘The ‘Hoochery’ and Paul Mock’s ‘Sandalwood Sanctuary’ all have had multiple ‘breeding’ take place that have needed constant attention. There have been many ‘false’ calls too, but these calls are equally important, particularly if the concern is about identifying correctly any obvious new breeding in an area. Shire President Fred Mills had a flurry of worry concerning suspected cane toad tadpoles in the ponds out the front of his place out at Crossing Falls. At tadpole stage, they are the hardest to distinguish from many natives that share similar characteristics. In this particular case, Fred had called in one of our own ’stalwarts’ KTB volunteer Don Mullen’s who had expressed concerns over the way the tadpoles were ‘swarming’, a characteristic of ‘toad tadpoles’. On closer examination the next day by Dean Goodgame, backed up by ‘double check’ Sharon McLaughlin we were able to discern that they in fact belonged to one of our ‘native’ specie. Far from being a worry, the original misidentification only serves to highlight the ’checks and balances’ KTB bring into play when confronting such an alarming problem.
2. Kununurra Township.
Toads now have been found in just about all suburbs. ‘Lakeside’, ’Hidden Valley’, the ’Light Industrial estate’ Ivanhoe, River-farm, Weber Plains and Packsaddle have all had the ’odd’ toad bagged and tagged. A toad was picked up at ’Celebratory Tree Park’, one out at the Golf Course (Thanks Dwain!) and another near the turn-off to the Pump-House restaurant and another one just past the channel bridge on the way to the airport. Paul Milner was shocked to find one on his doorstep down by the lake. The significant aspect of this is that ‘community’ is engaged in the cane toad fight and people are taking ‘charge’ and dealing with each incursion as it happens. This will help to keep toad numbers at a minimal and toad breeding under control. KTB will do the rest.
3. ‘Long Michael Plains’.
KTB has continued to conduct toad busts both along the ‘upper’ reaches of ‘Stonewall Creek” as well as out on the larger area referred to as Long Michael Plains with Ms Walker, (owner and environmental care-taker of Roy’s Retreat located on LMP). Barbara has been monitoring this area well before toads arrived and has since actively, with KTB assistance, dealt with explorer numbers and then the frontline breeding numbers. While KTB have assisted Barbara with volunteer assistance our greatest contribution has been the loan of one of our quad bikes which enables Barbara to access areas of Long Michael Plain normally inaccessible during the wet. It is people like Barbara, whose fearlessness in setting out on the quad bike night after night, into crocodile infested aquatic systems, alone, to fight the cane toad invasion, that truly make a difference to this KTB community driven cane toad fight. On a positive Christmas note KTB had an ecstatic Barbara on the phone only the other day happily relating, “No toads for the last 3 nights Ben!”
3. Other area’s focused on by KTB!
1. Dingo Springs Community.
Last but by no means least, there has been several major reconnaissance forays out into the field to map the forward flow of toads as they continue to spread and colonize the East Kimberley. The reconnaissance trips also help to map the most likely areas the toads will reach next and to ensure KTB are on top of any new movement by explorer toads. They are also used to help KTB leaders familiarize themselves before toad busting teams are taken into a new area.
KTB Education sessions
Kimberley Toadbusters has continued to run education sessions in the East Kimberley over the last month ostensibly to fore arm communities to the possibility of toads arriving as they continue to hitch-hike and ‘frog hop’ to colonize new ground.
In the last two months cane toad education sessions have been undertaken in a number of locations. While KTB cane toad education is ensuring communities are prepared for the arrival of the toad it is also about ‘empowering’ and educating community to undertake biodiversity surveys pre-toad and after the toad arrives.
1. Halls Creek Shire Office: Great thanks to ‘Kyle’ the Ranger from Halls Creek who facilitated this visit. KTB looks forward to the Halls Creek Shire funneling their toad busting activities via our Southern Depot, Nicholson Station starting February in the New Year.
2. Wuggubun Community: With the enthusiasm shown by the ‘Cox’ family, Wuggubun is one community that continues to empower itself by taking charge of their own destiny. This community is fully prepared for the cane toad and it is hoped that the “What’s in your Backyard?” program will be established over this wet season.
3. Wyndham District High school: KTB have visited this school on a couple of occasions and have donated a collection of books to assist with the “What’s in your Backyard?” biodiversity recording and monitoring program. It is hoped that this program will be activated by early 1011.
4. ‘Gooliyani’ Wyndham men’s group: David Cox has helped to facilitate KTB involvement with this group. This group will join KTB toad busting in Kununurra to help prepare for when the toads arrive in Wyndham.
5. Kununurra Aboriginal Hostel: A big thank-you to all the staff at the hostel and in particularly to ‘Chris’ from Indigenous affairs for your enthusiasm and participation when conducting toad busts with your ‘charges’ with KTB.
As the above indicates, even though we are all in the festive season, ‘toad busting’ and the incredibly important work accomplished by all KTB volunteers never stops. While at this stage ‘Christmas Eve and Day’ have been left free it is just as likely that like many past years there will be those intrepid individuals looking to do something memorable on the day itself. Certainly between Christmas and New Year everything will be running ‘as per usual’ and every hand not only makes lighter work, but really can make a difference. I look forward to the new year as it beckons ever closer, may ‘Santa’ leave only groovy presents, and take with him not only the Brandy and sweet biscuits, but a bag’o’toads to the North Pole too.
“If everyone was a Toad buster-Santa, you too, - then the toads would be busted”