Over the last 80 years, cane toads have colonised large swathes of tropical and subtropical Australia, leading some people to take up weapons, such as golf clubs, against this “invader”.
But hitting any animal with a blunt instrument is cruel, and toad hunts are dangerous and ineffective as a form of population control.
Cane toads were deliberately introduced to Australia from Hawaii in 1935 to combat the cane beetle, a native insect that feeds on sugar cane (which is, in turn, an exotic grass species first cultivated in the country at the time of the First Fleet).
This very profitable crop was severely affected by insect attacks – and rather than using pesticides, scientists suggested importing and introducing toads. There was little consideration of the feasibility of using these ground-based animals to control a population of airborne insects.
Furthermore, people failed to foresee that the amphibians would spread out from the cane fields – and that in the absence of their traditional predators, they would fall prey to native animals who generally have no resistance to the toxic secretions on the toads’ skin.
None of this is the fault of the toads, who never asked to be brought to this country.
Yet people have been heading out wielding various weapons – including cricket bats and golf clubs – to beat them to death. A poll in a Queensland newspaper found that for some 60 per cent of respondents, hitting toads with golf clubs was their preferred method of supposed population control.
Of course, most respondents have no intention of actually heading out with a seven iron, and some expressed revulsion at killing any animal, including toads. One said:
“The whole idea of ‘mass execution’ night makes me shudder”.
However, the publicity the idea has received has led many people to try it – with tragic results. A few months ago, a 13-year-old Sunshine Coast boy went out hunting toads with friends and was accidentally hit with his friend’s golf club. He went into cardiac arrest and died a couple of days later.
Police called it a “terrible accident”, but it was certainly one that was waiting to happen, as young, impulsive children and hunting don’t mix.
Let’s also remember the words of the great moral philosopher Immanuel Kant: “[H]e who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men”. Teaching kids to be cruel to a particular animal will inevitably encourage them to act violently towards other animals and humans.
Culling has, in any case, repeatedly proved ineffective. A single female toad can produce around 30,000 eggs in a single clutch – so the few animals that hunters inevitably miss can rapidly replace those removed. Such measures can even cause population booms, since killing or otherwise removing some individuals often improves conditions and the availability of food for those who remain. Also, since toads migrate, any purged area would most likely be re-invaded right away.
Humane, long-term population-control techniques do exist. Possible solutions include immunocontraception – and scientists from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation are working on methods of genetically modifying toads so that they can produce only male offspring. If the population became overwhelmingly male, the species would eventually become extinct in Australia.
Australians have been taught to hate cane toads, and the fact that they’re considered by many to be “ugly” makes it easier to promote casual violence against them.
But humans deliberately introduced these animals into the country, so it’s our responsibility to seek humane solutions, rather than just lashing out. Rational, scientific population-control methods are in the pipeline which don’t require the cruel, dangerous, and ineffective use of golf clubs.