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, exacerbated 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 very concerning) methods.
The RSPCA believes that any efforts to control cane toads should be carried out as part of a government or community organised program which includes clear guidelines on how toads should be handled and killed. However, there is also a need to provide practical advice to individuals who wish to humanely kill cane toads when they locate them on their property.
A recent study into the humaneness of a range of cane toad killing methods has brought into question the acceptability of a number of methods that have been widely used in the past. On the basis of this information, RSPCA Australia has reviewed our previous advice on this topic.
What killing methods can now be 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 which has been based on a comparative study of the humaneness of a range of different cane toad killing methods. Three methods are listed in the SOP as being conditionally acceptable:
Cooling followed by freezing was previously cautiously recommended by the RSPCA, but this method has now been questioned due to concerns over whether toads may suffer during the cooling process prior to becoming insensible. The SOP also lists a number of other methods that are not considered acceptable.
How do I know when a cane toad is dead?
When using any killing method, it is essential that you 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 that you should 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 you should repeat the killing procedure used.
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