Since being introduced in Queensland in 1935, cane toads have spread around vast areas of northern Australia. Attempts to contain, suppress or eradicate them on a broad scale have so far been unsuccessful.
Cane toads are generally resilient to adverse environmental conditions – provided the weather is warm and they have access to a suitable water source. Female cane toads can lay between 10,000 and 30,000 eggs in a single clutch and breed on average twice per year. Cane toads carry toxins that are often fatal when consumed by native animals, such as goannas, lizards, snakes and quolls. They may also compete with native animals for food and habitation. In areas populated by cane toads, there can be serious impacts on biodiversity and the ecology.
Some species may benefit or manage to co-exist with cane toads; for example, certain tropical snakes become more common (as there are fewer goannas around to eat the snakes) and some birds, rodents and insects can eat cane toads without being poisoned. Economic impacts appear to be uncalculated at this stage. The Committee heard that the cattle industry, lettuce farmers, tourism operators and apiarists could be negatively impacted. Indigenous people have lost traditional food sources, particularly goannas.
Cane toads at the invasion front are now believed to be capable of moving up to 55 kilometres per year – a much greater distance than previously estimated.
The Federal Government has a leadership and coordination role in the national efforts to control cane toads, and should accord appropriate priority to it. At the same time, the Federal Government can’t do it all alone. State and Territory governments are the key implementing partners for measures to control toads. All levels of government can do better to ensure effective action and coordination.