Cane toad sightings in Alice Springs prompts warning for motorists about hitchhiking wildlife
Wildlife rangers in the Northern Territory say they are concerned by recent cane toad sightings in Alice Springs, where no established population of the pest currently exists.
They dealt with about 10 sightings in the past five years before sightings in September, November and a third this week.
The toads are established in the Top End but their southern-most known population is near Elliott, 750 kilometres north of Alice Springs.
Toads stowaway in vehicles
It’s unlikely the toads migrated that far south on their own, according to senior wildlife ranger Kym Schwartzkopff.
Instead, they’re more likely to have hitchhiked in vehicles travelling south.
While the harsh desert terrain was unlikely to support a cane toad population, Mr Schwartzkopff said one could survive in the town itself thanks to an abundance of shade and water.
This could lead to pets and native wildlife being poisoned if they confused the toads for food, he said.
Cane toads only require small amounts of water in which to breed, and females can lay tens of thousands of eggs per year.
“Their egg-laying, when it happens, only needs two to three days before they hatch and then you’ve got toadlets around,” Mr Schwartzkopff said.
“[It] could be handled reasonably well, but if there’s any sort of prolonged wet season down here in the centre, or if someone managed to get one in one of the waterholes out towards the east or the west, then chances are that could cause a bit of a problem with the native fish and those sorts of things out there.”
However, any toad population would be impacted by the inhospitable winter months.
“As in most animals, you’ll always have those that die off and a percentage that will actually survive through it,” Mr Schwartzkopff said.
“That’s the main concern — if they do get established, you’d most probably never be able to get rid of the lot of them.”
Conservationists in northern New South Wales this week bagged thousands of juvenile cane toads to stop the species spreading further south.
Senator Pauline Hanson, meanwhile, has asked the Prime Minister to fund a three-month summer program that would see those who collect cane toads financially rewarded.
Motorists traveling south through the Northern Territory are advised to double-check their items — particularly camping gear — for any unwanted passengers.
People in Alice Springs can humanely destroy cane toads by placing them in a bag in a freezer, and should contact Parks and Wildlife with further sightings.
The department’s website contains guidelines for identifying cane toads.