Where: State of Queensland, Australia

April 2, 2007: This is certainly not a toad you’d want to kiss. Not only will the toad not turn into a handsome prince, you may not be left alive to tell the tale.

It’s as big as a small dog, has the body of a football and enough poison to kill a crocodile if it makes the mistake of having a Cane toad for lunch. It has been 70 years since the cane toad was first brought to northern Australia from South America to kill and eat the beetles that were spoiling the sugar cane crop.

Today, the cane toad is killing Australia’s native animals, and rapidly spreading its poisonous presence as far as its legs can take it. From snakes, lizards, water birds, dingoes and crocodiles, no creature is safe. What’s got Australians worried is that these toads have now evolved longer legs. This means that the toads are able to hop longer distances than ever before.

The cane toad has two lumps or sacs behind each eye. When an animal tries to attack a cane toad, fear causes the toad to ooze out this poison which collects in these sacs. Any animal that swallows the toad is dead meat.

The worried Australians are doing all they can to catch and kill as many of these toads as they can. One such group is Frogwatch. It has started a project called Toadbuster to tackle this menace. Frogwatch volunteers go to ponds and lakes around which these toads live. They shine bright lights to blind the toads, then scoop them up and then kill the collected toads using carbon dioxide gas. Then they spray a liquid fertilizer on the dead toads, which converts the toxic toads into non-toxic fertilizer.

In March 2007, Frogwatch captured a giant cane toad weighing about one kilogram. This roly-poly menace has spread its presence across a million square kilometers of northern Australia, killing in its path any creature unwise enough to swallow it. Last year, the toads had reached as far as the outskirts of the city of Darwin in northern Australia. Government officials are wondering what to do. Some suggest calling the army out. Others say get the local residents to go after the toads with cricket bats and golf clubs. Still others suggest deep freezing them to death.

This is a man-made ecological nightmare. Animals that are native to a place create a natural balance in the environment between the hunter and hunted. When you bring in an animal from outside, you can never be certain what the effect will be on local plants and animals. The cane toad was brought to eat the beetles. But pretty soon it started eating other bugs. It also started pushing out native insect-eaters and also managed to kill its predators. Scientists call this process “ecological invasion”.

More and more people feel that the environment has to be treated with a lot more respect than it has been so far. We may be able to program a computer to follow our commands exactly, but nature has a mind of its own.