Kimberley Toad Busters

Kimberley Toadbusters

Cane toads were introduced to Australia as a means of controlling pest beetles in the sugar cane industry in 1935. Since then they have been spreading throughout northern Australia and are moving westward at about 40-60km per year[1].  Cane toads can produce large numbers of offspring and are colonising northern Australia at an increasingly rapid pace. 


HON ROBIN CHAPPLE(Mining and Pastoral)[9.44 pm]: I rise tonight on an issue of great concern to the constituents in the Mining and Pastoral electorate. I refer to the developing threat to our environment and in many respects to our way of life posed by the silent and largely unheralded invasion of our state by the army of cane toads. As honourable members would be aware, the cane toad was introduced to Queensland as a biological control agent in 1935. It was supposed to resolve problems with the cane beetle, which it did not actually manage to do. For a long time the cane toad was referred to as the Queensland cane toad, until it decided to cross the border into the Northern Territory and just became the ordinary cane toad. It has no natural predator, and it multiplies in vast numbers as it marches across northern Australia.

Those of us in this corner of the chamber are often labelled “nimby”—not in my backyard. Having seen what I have seen recently in the Kimberley, I suggest that nimby might be “not in my backyard yet”. I recently went out with Toad Busters in the Kimberley and in an hour we caught over 500 cane toads just south of Kununurra. They are moving at an incredible rate. In dissecting the animals, it became apparent that each female cane toad has in the region of 30 000 eggs. They are evolving, they are getting bigger and they are actually expanding at a huge rate. While the cane toad is in the Kimberley, it does not seem to worry us; from a Perth-centric point of view it is not here yet. But I would suggest that if these beasts end up marching along Bayview Terrace, Claremont in the Minister for Environment’s Nedlands electorate, or indeed—heaven forbid!—end up being in the Premier’s Cottesloe electorate, we would be getting a lot more concerned about the issue.

Again I want to point people to my website, which shows the filmed capture of over 500 cane toads in under an hour. I have to take my hat off to Toad Busters, a marvellous group of people in the Kimberley from a range of walks of life who dedicate hours every night and every week to the eradication of tens of thousands of cane toads in that area. What I am concerned about is that we have a strategy that takes us up to 2019, I think, but beyond then the strategy falls over. The other problem is what we are going to do at the expiry of that 2019 cane toad strategy. We already know that there has been a significant reduction in funding by this state government for Toad Busters, and indeed for the Stop the Toad program, which is now completely unfunded. The community in the Kununurra area is prepared to do the job. This government and the community here in Perth should be doing all they can to assist financially to help expand the programs in the Kimberley and indeed to help the community there, which almost to a man—and a woman for that matter—is wholly focused on eradicating cane toads. When I was out there, there were young Aboriginal boys, older Aboriginal women, young girls from the school, pastoralists—all sorts of people—getting involved in that program. But they need our help. Our help in most cases will have to be some sort of financial budgetary help to enable some of the scientific programs they are putting in place with the French and, I think, the Swedish who are coming over to work on biological control.

We really do need this government’s assistance in trying to restrict the movement and, indeed, stop the advancement of the cane toad which, as I say, at the moment has got past Kununurra. Once it gets into the Kimberley it will have an immense effect on the pastoral industry and on the broader environment right across the pristine Kimberley. It will not stop there. If we look at the projections for where the cane toad can travel, it will end up here in Perth. Members have seen these things. Their ability to breed is enormous and their numbers become enormous. We will not know what has hit us. Dogs in our yards will suffer; anything that predates, licks or touches these animals will die. We are currently losing Johnson’s crocodiles to them. Nothing is safe; all sorts of animals, including pythons are dying through interaction with cane toads. We must do something. It is our state’s responsibility. They are here and we need to do something about them now. I hope the government and the opposition will go to the next election with some promises on the eradication of these pests.

Toad Busting in the Kimberley at the Ivanhoe Billabong

In about 1 hour a grand total of 583 Adult Cane Toads were removed from the Ivanhoe Billabong west of Kununurra. 

No government either Federal or State has ever funded this problem with the seriousness it deserves.

Draft Cane Toad Strategy for Western Australia 2009–2019 - response



That the statement be noted.

We quite often do not get to reports or ministerial statements for a long time, so this is one of those really interesting ones. The Minister for Environment made a statement on 12 May 2009. Time has moved on, and so have the toads! On that, I have my prop with me! I was going to bring in a red fire ant—I will talk about that in a little bit—but I could not find it; it was too small. The draft cane toad strategy was a new 10-year management plan for cane toads. The strategy outlined the government’s plan to roll out several immediate measures to educate communities about the cane toad threat. It anticipated the arrival of cane toads but hoped to minimise their arrival. That has not been the case. Unfortunately, cane toads are now breast-stroking across Lake Argyle! Cane toads have certainly moved in.

This provides me with a really good opportunity to talk about some of the work being done in the Kimberley community. The community is really the stopgap. I will provide an idea to the chamber about how much we have expended on cane toads. At a federal level, around $8.5 million has been spent. In the case of red fire ants, which are tiny little beasts that bite, we have spent something like $200 million trying to eradicate them; yet the cane toad is one of the most significant threats to our flora and fauna not only in the north west and Kimberley but also as far south as the Perth metropolitan area. I argue that not only the state government but also the federal government really needs to take the cane toad threat very seriously. It is a major threat to our environment and to our fauna of the north west and Kimberley. As Malcolm Douglas found out, many of the species he dealt with have also been impacted. Indeed, in the freshwater regions in some northern billabongs where the cane toads have got in, we have just about lost the whole assemblage of freshwater Johnstone’s crocodiles.

- - - -

Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: When I last spoke on this issue, I said that this ministerial statement was made on 11 May 2009, and that although in most cases I would support the notion that ministerial statements that are made as long ago as that should drop off the notice paper, this ministerial statement is very interesting, because it enables us to revisit where we are now on the issue of cane toads. The statement was made by the then Minister for Environment, Hon Donna Faragher, and reference was made to a new strategy for a 10-year management plan for cane toads, which aimed to provide an integrated response to reduce the impact of that invasive species on biodiversity and social and economic values. Ahead of the arrival of the cane toads, the government rolled out several initiatives to educate communities on drop-off points and the like. The Liberal Party made an election commitment of $1.2 million over four years to Kimberley Toad Busters to support its fight against the invasive species.

The community and officers from the Department of Environment and Conservation and the Department of Agriculture and Food have been doing an absolutely sterling job on the ground, with very little support or funding, to try to hold back the cane toad. We note that a cane toad was recently found as far south as Collie, and sniffer dogs were brought down from the Kimberley to Collie to locate it. It is indeed an invasive species. When we look at the mapping, it is clear that they have the potential to come all the way down our coastal strip and into the South West.

Recently a bold conservation vision for the Kimberley was released by the government, and significant funding was referred to. I would suggest that regardless of what we do in the Kimberley in the way of conservation estates or anything else, unless we actually deal with the cane toad problem with some significant and decent funding, we are still going to have a problem. Of the $1.2 million that was referred to, there was $310 000 for 2009–10, $300 000 for 2010–11, and $300 000 for 2011–12. Interestingly enough, that was recently almost re-announced as something really rather special. The announcement was that the fight against cane toads in Western Australia had received a boost after the state government had allocated a further $341 750 to the Kimberley Toad Busters; but that was already in the budget, so it was not anything particularly new.

We need to realise that the cane toads have, indeed, marched on. Part of my reply to the minister’s statement is to ask the state government to try to put some more major funding into the community groups up there. There are thousands of people who go out every night and try to hold the front line by catching cane toads and placing them in the bins supplied by DEC and the Department of Agriculture and Food.

I have some concerns about the notion that the government is going to develop a strategy to monitor the advance of the cane toads. I am sure that Winston Churchill did not have a strategy for monitoring the advance of the German Army; he actually did something about it. The idea of monitoring how far they go is anathema to the fight against cane toads, because we will still be monitoring them by the time they get to Perth. I hope that we can end up with a strategy and a funding base that can hold them at bay until the federal government can hopefully provide some meaningful funding for seeking a scientific program to enable the eradication of cane toads—not only in Western Australia, but also for the battle that has almost been lost in the Northern Territory and Queensland.

I note that there was recent notification that we have begun to lose Johnstone’s crocodiles in Western Australia. I previously travelled with a cane toad group in the Northern Territory to a billabong where all the Johnstone’s crocodiles had been killed. I am hopeful that the government can put some meaningful funding into the next budget round towards cane toads, because there is nothing in the forward estimates at the moment.

I turn now to the two groups that have been doing the majority of work in the Kimberley. The Kimberley Toad Busters commenced operations around 2005; I remember attending its launch in Kununurra. It is now in the seventh year of its community-driven activity, and many thousands of people over the years have gone out almost nightly, 12 months of the year, to catch cane toads, and they are doing a tremendous job. But they and another organisation that I will talk about shortly feel rather dejected that the level of funding they and DEC need to enable them to continue their work is not being met, and they are not receiving enough to halt the march of the cane toad.

- - - - -

Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: Before question time, I was talking about Kimberley Toad Busters, which has been doing an absolutely sterling job since its establishment in 2005. I think I mentioned that I was lucky enough to be at the formation meeting for that organisation that was held in Kununurra. The objective of Kimberley Toad Busters is to try to slow the front line of toads as they migrate west and mitigate their impacts on native fauna.

Hon Ken Travers: I’ve never seen anyone clear an audience so quickly!

Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: Thank you, guys!

Hon Liz Behjat: They’re all rushing off to check out your website!

Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: It is www —

Hon Giz Watson: Just google Robin Chapple!

Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: Turning a serious mind to this subject, the other objectives of Kimberley Toad Busters is to facilitate and sponsor scientific field work and to take the biodiversity education program to schools and other community groups in the Kimberley. It has invested more than 2.5 million volunteer hours since 2005 and has disposed of 1.5 million adult cane toads and countless million eggs, tadpoles and juveniles. Kimberley Toad Busters is committed to working to try to reduce toad numbers. I point out that it has a very difficult task. I think this house is beholden to thank the many people in Kununurra who go out night after night in pursuit of the cane toad. KTB has established a living Google map on the home page of its website to enable interested parties to see the progress of the cane toads through the Kimberley. All seven years of data are being collated and will soon be available on the website. Although state government funding of $1.2 million over four years has been appreciated, it has not been nearly enough to cover toad-busting operations. Kimberley Toad Busters also raises funds within the community—around $30 000 per annum—and has received Caring for our Country funding.

Toads are now in the Kimberley and present Kimberley Toad Busters with an even greater challenge in maintaining community engagement and reducing the impact of toads on the Kimberley’s biodiversity. Only one year’s worth of funding remains of the $1.2 million state government allocation. I will talk about the Stop the Toad Foundation in a moment. That funding of $1.2 million is coming to an end. I appeal to the state government, and to the National Party with its royalties for regions program, to direct further funds to this incredible community effort, which is doing the bidding of all Western Australians in keeping the cane toad at bay. There have been positive outcomes in the area that Kimberley Toad Busters has undertaken action in, including the prevention of any breeding activity. Toad movements have slowed in two central corridors, taking toads into Kununurra. There has been a reduction in the number of toads being picked up and there has been a reduction in the loss of native biodiversity in those areas where the toad populations have been reduced. It is to be noted that a Johnstone’s crocodile was recently found in the region, which, when opened up, was found to have died as a result of eating a cane toad. Kimberley Toad Busters has trialled several different methods and continually works on its annual toad busts. Although these are effective for the few weeks that volunteers are in the field, they are not nearly as effective in the long term and deal only with a handful of aquatic systems in the landscape that contains thousands of similar toad-infested systems. Again, if we are to save the Kimberley, as the government has talked about in its bold conservation vision for the Kimberley, there is a definite need to put some more money into the front line of defending Western Australia.

It is also important to mention the Stop the Toad Foundation, which is another organisation operating in that region. It is doing its management not by cane toad collection, but by putting in fencing controls. These fences are not very big, but they are webbed into the ground to stop the toads burrowing through them or getting through them. It is like a pit trap; as the toads run along the fence line, they are collected at the end of the fence line. There is a really good amalgamation of efforts being applied in the Kimberley by the Stop the Toad Foundation with its fencing program and by Kimberley Toad Busters with its collection system. I hope that, if funding is to be made available from the state government or, indeed, from royalties for regions, both programs can be funded. Although they are different programs, they have a great synergy.

The Stop the Toad Foundation commenced its operations in 2005 when it was incorporated. In 2005, the state government pledged $500 000 to the Stop the Toad Foundation to start the foundation and to raise community awareness. In April 2006, three full-time staff were employed by the Stop the Toad Foundation. The first great toad muster was held in September 2006, during which 50 000 toads were collected with the help of 120 volunteers. In March 2007, staff positions were no longer available due to financial constraints. The campaign was run voluntarily by board member Russell Gueho. In September 2007, the state government gave a further $100 000 to the Stop the Toad Foundation to support the second Great Toad Muster during which 12 000 toads were collected with the help of 30 volunteers.

What I am really saying is that there is a great will amongst a range of community members in the Kimberley to do the bidding of all Western Australians. I think that their efforts should be applauded. No-one has really asked them to do it, yet they are doing it on our behalf. As far as their future and the potential halting of the cane toad advance into Western Australia goes, I seriously hope that the state government will consider providing more funding to these valuable members of the community who do our work for us.

Cane Toad Can Still Be Stopped: Greens

9th March 2010 - The Greens today expressed dismay at reports of Cane Toads being found on the outskirts of Kununurra, and frustration over the State and federal governments’ limited action on the problem.

Greens MLC Robin Chapple said that he was extremely concerned for the future of the Kimberley given the toads’ devastating impact on biodiversity further east.   He said the Greens would be demanding action to prevent the same occurring in Western Australia.

“If the toad is allowed to spread further west, the Kimberley as we know it is doomed.  I am not exaggerating.  The cane toad is a proven destroyer of pristine habitats because it is poisonous to native predators.”  Mr Chapple said.

“If the top predators – snakes and lizards, even crocodiles – are killed off the entire system breaks down.  The toad is also a killer of marsupials such as the quoll.   This is what the Kimberley facing unless rapid and comprehensive action is taken.”

Mr Chapple said that State and Federal governments had failed the people and ecosystems of the Kimberley because they had not adequately funded organisations trying to halt the spread of the toad.

“We have fantastic organisations such as Stop the Toad and Toadbusters struggling to contain the spread and not getting nearly enough support from the Rudd or Barnett Governments”, Mr. Chapple said.

“They never took heed of community warnings and expert warnings and now we have cane toads on the threshold of the last truly pristine place in Australia.”

“This is the reality now.  From here on in the task of stopping the toads will get more difficult as the country gets wilder, wetter and less accessible.”

“The Greens will be demanding support at all levels of government for a ‘boots on the ground’ policy towards stopping the toads.   I will be writing to Ministers Faragher and Garrett on this matter”

Mr Chapple said that this would include demanding funding for full-time community or public sector officers in the affected region, and a relocation program for affected species.

“The State and federal environment ministries had better get their act together this time, or we face a catastrophic loss of biodiversity in the Kimberley.”

  • Media Contact: Robin Chapple 0409 379 263 or 9486 8255
Subscribe to RSS - Kimberley Toad Busters
Go to top