Cane Toad Wars
University of California Press (Footprint), $49.99 hb, 288 pp, 9780520295100
Cane Toads are peculiarly Australian. They don’t belong, yet they thrive here. They breed unnaturally fast – even faster than rabbits. They are ugly, ecosystem-changing, and despised. Introduced in 1935 to eat the pests of sugar cane in Queensland, their numbers have exploded right across Australia’s tropical north. They are famously ‘unnatural’, since Mark Lewis’s popular 1988 film Cane toads: An Unnatural History.
Only in Australia, where they have no close relatives, are they called Cane Toads (their scientific name is Rhinella marinus, formerly Bufo marinus). Originally from South America, the species is now widespread internationally, but its success in Australia is legendary. Elsewhere, toads are common and much loved, part of literary and cultural traditions, and even ‘harbingers of spring’. Here, where cane toads have a history of just eight decades, they are bad news.