Being Cruel to Cane Toads
Few invasive species generate the kind of abhorrence that the Gold Coast community feels towards the cane toad. As a rule we hate them; it'd be un-Australian of you to sympathise with them. This animosity I suspect is largely influenced by the toad's appearance, and let's face it the fella's ugly as sin. But is this really a valid excuse to perform hideous acts of animal cruelty upon this unfortunate creature?
Green Tree Frog & Cane Toad at Fingal Head, NSW
On and off for the last few months I've been asking people about their feelings towards cane toads, and most people agree, they are terribly useful for practising your golf swing or your hockey hit, cricket swing and various other energetic swings that result in toads flying across the suburbs on a Summers night. And I make no excuses for my friends, family and even highly respected academics, last week I went to hear a talk about frogs where my most admired university professor spoke about how toads can improve your driving. And to be clear he wasn't talking about avoiding them on the road, personally I don't see how swerving to hit cane toads could possibly make you a better driver. Just the other day I listened to a 'nice' old neighbour describe how she massacres toads by chopping them up with giant tree secateurs, apparently she's had years of practice. Having grown up on the Gold Coast, I can say that toads have been a conspicuous part of landscape here for almost as long as I can remember. And getting hold of a toad to perform heinous crimes upon it was not difficult for bored street youth. As a child I was unfortunate to witnessed a group of boys in the street pour flammable liquid on a toad before setting it alight. I remember watching in horror as the terrible little thing hopped panicking and burning to death down the road. So this sort of barbaric torture of toads has been going on for quite some time, and I'd go as far as to say that it's become an acceptable social norm. But I am convinced that if it were any other creature, these stories would incite community uproar.
Ever wondered if that ugly toad feels pain? They most certainly do! In 2011, I assisted with a study that was looking at the pain experience by toads when they have a toe chopped off . Sounds a bit strange I know, but this happens to be a common practice for marking free-living frogs in capture/recapture studies. I can tell you with confidence that toads feel pain and will sulk about it (having their toe chopped off) longer than some people do after the amputation of a digit. How then do you suppose they feel when you set a fire cracker off in their mouths?
Do Aussies enjoy being cruel to cane toads? Certainly many of the people I asked couldn't help, but chuckle whilst relaying their experiences mutilating these living creatures. Listening to these stories often left me feeling quite disturbed. If you are one of those persons that's been cruel to cane toads and felt a twang of guilt or regret afterwards, the good news is you're not a psychopath! But jokes aside, your family or friends may think it's acceptable behaviour, but it's animal cruelty no matter which way you spin it.
1. Narayan, E.J et al. (2011) Urinary corticosterone responses to capture and toe-clipping in the cane toad (Rhinella marina) indicate that toe-clipping is a stressor for amphibians. General and comparative endocrinology 174.2: pp. 238-245