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Cane toads are a highly invasive species and are regarded as a major environmental pest in Australia. While there is fairly universal agreement over the need to control cane toads, there is significant debate over what is the most humane method to use. This is largely due to the limited research into the impact of killing methods on toads, compounded by the fact that it is difficult to measure pain and distress in amphibians through observation alone.
Despite this, thousands of cane toads are killed every year in Australia by government and community groups and individuals, using many different (and sometimes inhumane) methods. Irrespective of the fact that cane toads are considered pests, they are also capable of experiencing pain and distress and so any measures to control them must not cause suffering. It is the responsibility of both the government and the community to ensure that only humane methods are used.
The unfortunate reality is that there are very limited humane practical methods available for use by the general public. Most currently recommended methods either require special equipment or operators to be trained and skilled. To this end, community based training programs on humane killing would help to ensure that members of the public were able to learn safe, effective and acceptable techniques.
What killing methods are being recommended?
Detailed information on the humane killing of cane toads is available in the Australian Government publication, Standard Operating Procedure for the Humane Field Euthanasia of Cane Toads (SOP) which has been based on a comparative study of the humaneness of a range of different cane toad killing methods.
No methods are listed in the SOP as unconditionally acceptable, but there are three methods listed as conditionally acceptable. These are:
(a) spraying with Hopstop®;
(b) stunning followed by decapitation and;
(c) prolonged exposure to carbon dioxide.
A further method, cooling followed by freezing, is listed as not acceptable in the SOP, however, recent research suggests that this method may be more humane than previously thought and may be the most humane and reliable method for untrained people where Hopstop® is unavailable.
The following methods can be used without formal training:
The following methods MUST ONLY be used by trained and competent operators:
For further information on the above methods, please read the SOP.
The SOP also states that the disinfectant Dettol® must not be used to kill cane toads as it is inhumane.
The establishment of cane toad control centres where the public can deliver toads for humane killing by trained operators would help prevent inhumane methods being used as well as assist people who are unable to kill cane toads themselves. Such centres would require community and government support.
It is also recommended that research be undertaken to assess the suitability of a specialised small captive bolt (e.g. poultry or rabbit stunner) for stunning prior to humane killing.
How do I know when a cane toad is dead?
When using any killing method, it is essential to confirm that the animal has died before disposing of its body. Determining death can be difficult with amphibians as their heart rate is difficult to detect and respiration can occur through the skin as well as the lungs. Absence of all of the following signs will confirm that the cane toad is dead (remember to wear thick plastic gloves when handling cane toads):
Always check for these signs and do not assume an animal is dead just because it is not moving or apparently not breathing. If any of these signs are detected, then the killing procedure must be repeated.
Sharp T, Lothian A, Munn A & Saunders G (2011). Methods for the Field Euthanasia of Cane Toads: CAN001. Canberra, ACT: Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water Population and Communities. Available from http://nrmonline.nrm.gov.au/catalog/mql:2853.
Shine R, Amiel J, Munn A, Stewart M, Vyssotski AL and Lesku JA (2015) Is “cooling then freezing” a humane way to kill amphibians and reptiles? Biology Open 00, 1-4 doi:10.1242/bio.012179.