New trap has cane toads on the hop

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 May, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 May, 2005, 12:00am

A competition to find the most effective way of trapping the dreaded cane toad as it hops its way across Australia has been won by a mechanic from a town on the front line of the amphibians' relentless advance.

The Great Cane Toad Trap contest was launched last year by the government of the Northern Territory, which called on amateur inventors to come up with a trap or cage capable of catching the warty creatures humanely.

The competition, and A$16,000 ($97,500) in prize money, was won by diesel mechanic Paul Baker from Katherine in the Northern Territory, one of many towns doing battle with cane toads.

A small number of toads was introduced to Queensland from South America in the 1930s to prey on a species of beetle that was devastating sugar cane plantations.

Since then the toads have thrived, colonising most of Queensland and spreading south into New South Wales and west into the Northern Territory. The toads, which are poisonous to wildlife, have become one of Australia's most disastrous pests and are poised to invade Australia's northernmost city, Darwin.

Mr Baker's trap features a small lamp to lure insects, which in turn attract the toads. As the creatures lunge for the juicy flies buzzing around the light, they activate trap doors that drops them into a box.

The contest attracted more than 100 entries, but Mr Baker's design was the winner by a clear margin: over a few days it caught 112 cane toads, compared to the next best tally of 73.

'The winning entry caught 30 per cent more toads than its competitors, and didn't snare any native wildlife,' national park ranger Keith Saalfield said.

Among the other designs, one trap used female toads as bait to entice male toads, which were smeared with poison as they approached.

Other traps were rejected because they would fill with rainwater, consigning the entrapped toads to death by drowning.

Scientists are working on a virus that could kill the toads without harming other wildlife.