Australians are poised to take revenge on the much loathed cane toad - by turning the warty pests into liquid fertiliser. Cane toads were deliberately introduced to Queensland from South America in the 1930s to prey on a beetle that was devastating sugar cane plantations. But the experiment was a disaster - the toads proved all but useless against the insects and instead multiplied in their millions.
They have now fanned out across the country, into the tropical wetlands and national parks of the Northern Territory and as far south as New South Wales. The northern outpost of Darwin is under siege, with locals setting traps, attempting to toad-proof their backyards and organising nighttime toad 'musters' to catch dozens by torchlight. The plan now is to turn the hundreds of thousands of dead toads into liquid fertiliser, or 'toad juice' as it is being dubbed. It is said to be particularly good for growing bananas and papayas.
The idea came from conservation group FrogWatch that has led the fight against the toxic invaders. The group now has enough toad carcasses - 200kg at the last count - to start producing about 300 litres of fertiliser.
'We've done some preliminary work and the indications are that toads will make very good fertiliser,' FrogWatch founder Graham Sawyer said. 'They stink pretty bad when they are rotting down but at the end of the process you are left with a clear blue liquid and a strong smell of ammonia.'
The natural poison on the toad's skin, which has made them such a deadly menace to native wildlife, disappears once the amphibians are 'mulched'. The first batch of toads will be processed at a liquid-fertiliser producer in Darwin.
The rotting bodies will be mixed with molasses to aid decomposition. FrogWatch hopes it will be able to produce enough fertiliser to sell to the public, with the proceeds used to fund a new toad collection service. Residents will be able to dump the pests in bins, from where they will be collected and turned into more fertiliser.
Opinion is divided about how best to kill a cane toad. Animal welfare groups, and the Northern Territory government, suggest putting them in a plastic bag and placing them in the freezer.
A local MP, David Tollner, caused controversy last year when he suggested that the quickest way to despatch the pests was to bash them on the head with a golf club or cricket bat.
An even odder suggestion was made recently by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals - wildlife officials there suggested that people should anaesthetise the toads by smearing them with haemorrhoid cream before freezing them to death.