Collaboration and coordination avoids a potential ‘toad-tastrophe’

Replacing a fence in your backyard is not usually a cause for concern, but for one Perth resident recently – it caused quite a string of events.

While removing one of the stumps from an already established hole in the ground, the resident was extremely shocked to see a warty looking ‘toad’ at the bottom of the hole.

Cane toads are not yet present in Perth, so knowing something unusual was lurking in the hole and not thinking it was a native frog – the resident immediately sent an image of the toad to Corrin Everett, from the WA Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions (DBCA), who leads the WA Cane Toad Strategy.

A bit of history about toads in WA

While cane toads are yet to reach Perth, they are unfortunately found in the Kimberly and are working their way down.

The WA Government has been running large-scale awareness campaigns about the threat of cane toads to the region and has even set up a 24-hour hotline mobile number that residents can call or text if they find something that looks strange.

The message was heard – this particular resident knew exactly what to do and sent a picture of the toad to the hotline mobile number.

The ‘toad’ was later identified as an Asian black-spined toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus), a priority declared pest in Australia.

Asian black-spined toads are closely related to the cane toad. Like cane toads, they excrete a poisonous substance that may affect people and their pets if ingested. The toad’s skin secretions may cause itchy nose and eyes when handled.

They are prolific breeders and compete with native toads and frogs for food and habitat, as well as eating their eggs and tadpoles. They also carry exotic parasites and pathogens.

The quick-thinking resident immediately contained the toad in a sealed bucket until authorities could collect it.

Mounting a community-led surveillance response – are more toads out there?

The removal of the toad wasn’t the end of the story.

The sighting was only the first in a series of steps to ensure there weren’t more toads out there.

Based on the original sighting information, a well-planned response was quickly implemented.

The response, led by Richard Watkins from the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD), included a collaborative team from DPIRD and DBCA. The team also included the National Incursions Prevention and Response Facilitator, Dr Michelle Christy, who is based in Perth.

Collaboration leads to a streamlined and effective response

As part of her role, Michelle provides information and support to states and territories to assist them in preventing and responding to new animal and plant incursions. Consequently, Michelle was able to share information on the Asian black-spined toad and formulate a response plan for the incident.

Through a national network of experts, Michelle contacted Adam Kay and his team from Agriculture Victoria, who had prior experience responding to an Asian black-spined toad incursion.

Through Agriculture Victoria’s generosity and collaboration, the WA team was able to access vital information and experience quickly and efficiently. As a result, printed and on-line material was created and distributed from day one of the surveys.

The available information also increased planning efficiency, facilitating the completion of the response plan in a couple of days. Having a comprehensive plan of action, which included distribution of public information, targeted media awareness campaign, and a coordinated surveillance team, developed so quickly meant the lag time between detection of the toad and action was short.

No more toads have been spotted since the original sighting – success!

Because of the great collaboration between WA government departments and interstate colleagues, a larger, more qualified team than would normally be available were deployed each night to run surveys and communicate with residents. That meant a lot of ground was covered and there was an immense amount of communication with residents.

Since the first sighting in mid-November, the area has been thoroughly searched and no additional toads have been found.

Community surveillance is continuing, and awareness is still ongoing, backed up with follow-up searches. Other outcomes, besides developing a contingency plan should they find another toad or incipient population, include the possibility of more long-term education and awareness in the area, particularly at the airport.

This is a great outcome for everyone involved and well done to both staff and the community for stopping a real threat.

External sources

All photos provided courtesy of Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development.

WA DPIRD information on the Asian Black Spined Toad – https://www.agric.wa.gov.au/amphibians-and-reptiles/biosecurity-alert-asian-black-spined-toad?page=0%2C0