Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Fence looks promising in keeping Cane Toads out of WA

16 March 2007 - Toad fence looks promising: A group fighting the inexorable advance of cane toads toward the north of WA may have found the cane toad’s Achilles heel: their poor jumping ability...

The march of cane toads into Western Australia is being halted at the Northern Territory border by a simple fence. Trials of the toad fence, where shade cloth has been attached to existing cattle fences, funnels the noxious pests into traps. Graeme Sawyer from Stop the Toad Foundation says hundreds of toads have been trapped and more work is to be done...

"One of the things that we are looking at with the trial is putting traps on both sides of the fence so we can get some information about which corridors the toads are using and where the toads are hitting the fence, and the relative numbers between the east and the west," Mr Sawyer said. "Research in Queensland and places has shown that toad movement off a population base is pretty much random so you've got toads moving back to the east as well as to the west but we think the predominant movement is west."

Tests using 60cm high shade cloth attached to a 4.2km stretch of station fencing have succeeded in deflecting the toads' advance. The Stop The Toad Foundation, with support from the WA Department of Environment and Conservation, has begun the first major field trial of the shade cloth barrier near Timber Creek in the Northern Territory.

The north-south fence runs along the boundary of Gregory National Park, at the eastern end of the buffer zone where the STTF has focussed its efforts to stop the western advance of the cane toads.

Traps were set at intervals on each side of the fence to catch the toads as they hopped along seeking an opening to pass the shade cloth barrier. In the six days after the tests were started on January 24 the traps had captured 171 toads, and 85 more had been caught along the fenceline by STTF staff, volunteers and the Muyalee Women's Rangers.

Eighty per cent of the toads collected during the six days were on the eastern side of the fence.

STTF now wants to explore the potential use of similar deflection fences at strategic targets such as refuge waterholes in the dry season to deny toads access to water.

"If we can combine the potential of such barriers with the landscape-scale impacts of STTF's Great Toad Muster, which removed nearly 50,000 toads from the front line in 2006, there is a very real chance that cane toads can be delayed from reaching WA for long enough to allow CSIRO to develop a biological solution," said Mr Sawyer.

Preliminary Reprt on Trial Deflection Fence - March 2007 090307_preliminary_report_on_trial_deflection_fence.pdf (PDF 260K)

Last month, following its remarkable success in attacking the advance of toxic cane toads into WA from the Northern Territory, the Stop The Toad Foundation announced its second dry season onslaught.

In the first Great Toad Muster last September-October the foundation, aided by 126 volunteers, cleared a buffer zone 100km east of the WA border by killing 48,374 advancing cane toads. Many were adult females, capable of laying 30,000 eggs in one season. The remarkable operation, the first known attempt to remove cane toads from an area at landscape scale, was made possible because of a $500,000 grant by the WA Government, plus contributions from other organisations and individuals.

STTF Chairman Robert Edel said it was crucial that the achievements of last year's muster should be consolidated by another major effort this year, at the end of the Kimberley dry season. "The evidence gathered since the muster suggests that the operation has been highly effective. Since the muster the Department of Environment and Conservation has returned three times to the buffer zone around Auvergne Lagoon with the cane toad sniffer dog Nifty without finding any evidence of cane toads in the area," said Mr Edel. "We have shown that a concerted effort at the end of the dry season, when cane toads are at their lowest ebb, can have a significant effect in halting their colonisation."

"The toads cannot survive for more than four days without water. To survive at the end of the dry season they have to cluster around the few remaining water holes. By returning night after night to the same water holes we succeeded in wiping out virtually all the cane toads in that area. At this stage we cannot estimate how successful the toads have been in moving westward during this summer's wet season.

"To consolidate the work already done it is essential that we get further funding to return to the buffer zone at the end of the dry season this year. We are hoping that the State Government will continue to support the activity of the Foundation and that the Commonwealth Government will also contribute to this vital volunteer effort. Cane toads are deadly to Australia's native fauna. The only permanent way of eliminating them is by some sort of biological control. Meantime we have to keep up our efforts to keep them out of Western Australia."


For comment contact:

Regional Coordinator
Graeme Sawyer 0411 881 378

Campaign Manager
Dennis Beros 0409 244 029


Report all sightings of cane toads in WA to freecall 1800 084 881 which operates 24 hours a day. Make a note of the date, time and location where you saw the toad and if you can, take a photo of the suspect.

If you find a stowaway in your vehicle, remember to be careful when handling cane toads: toxin is produced in their shoulder glands just behind the ear, and is also present in the skin on the back.

Avoid skin contact with its toxin, and if it gets in your eyes, nose or mouth rinse the area thoroughly with copious amounts of fresh water and seek medical attention urgently. Thoroughly wash hands with soap and water after handling any toads, or use gloves.

Cane toads can squirt toxin from their glands when they feel threatened, so be as gentle as possible.

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