Australia announces biological warfare on invasive toad

The discovery a highly invasive toad’s presence in a United Nations protected site has prompted the Australian government to declare a biological war on the amphibian.

Federal Environment Minister Robert Hill has declared all-out war on the “march of cane toads across Australia”. The amphibian, which is highly invasive and destructive, is moving south and west at the rate of about 18.5 miles (30 kilometres) per year, and has already colonised most of Queensland, and large areas of the Northern Territory and New South Wales. Sightings of the toad in the Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory, which seems to have been the final straw as it is on the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage List for both its cultural and natural significance and is a refuge for many rare species.

The Federal Government believes biological controls, which have so far proved ineffective in stopping the cane toad’s advance, are the answer, however, and on 15 March, Hill announced more than AU$1 million (US$500,000) towards a new project searching for a gene critical to toad development which can effectively be ‘switched off’. The possibility of distribution of the gene through a suite of naturally occurring viruses is also under investigation.

“Finding the right gene will lead to the CSIRO being able to arrest the toad’s development, which could prevent it from reaching adulthood and to the reproductive stage,” Hill said.

“Every effort is being made to understand the full impacts of these invasive species on the park,” Hill said. “Preparations include a risk assessment of the impact of cane toads in Kakadu, public education activities and staff training. All staff, many of the traditional owners and local businesses have been provided with training on cane toad identification and reporting requirements. The Federal Government is concerned about the impacts of cane toads and will be working with park staff, scientists, traditional owners and the local community to ensure Kakadu’s World Heritage values are protected.”

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