I am no great fan of toads (it’s interesting how Kenneth Grahame nevertheless got away with making Mr. Toad a sort of loveable Jeffrey Archer), but I feel for the cane toad, just a little. In Australia, they are the scourge of wildlife, since being imported from South America to get rid of some beetles, which they couldn’t manage to eat (too high to jump). According to the papers, a politician called Shane Knuth in Queensland said a cane toad was “probably the most disgusting creature and the most destructive creature. They’re killing our native wildlife, they’re taking over our habitat and they’re hopping all through this country.” He has come up with a plan called ‘Toad Day Out’, which will involve a family fun day exterminating them. The RSPCA does not object, as long as the method is “humane”.
I don’t know if Mr. Knuth has noticed this, and I accept he is not personally responsible, but his own country, like every ‘civilised’ country, has a poor record when it comes to despatching “native wildlife”. The cane toads, being animals, cannot – well, I suspect they can’t – fight back. Nor could the Tasmanians, who were extinguished in a systematic “Tasmanian Day Out” in the nineteenth century. It is a bit of an irony to be one of an invading species – possibly frogmarched or even toadmarched over by the British penal system – having a pop at another species which has been “introduced”. We are also in this country having a go, in some parts of the country, at “sorting out” the grey squirrel, which has been here a lot longer (c. 1800) than the cane toad has been in Australia (1935).
And yet, paradoxically, there are scientists who are working at the same time to preserve, or do I mean un-preserve, extinct animals. By the end of this century, I expect there will be a mammoth or two in bewildered existence again, possibly looking at a couple of raptors, and thinking, ‘What happened to that Ice Age?” There will also be wolves in Scotland (“native wolves”, of course) and beavers, too, who are scheduled to make a comeback in this country, which will be a dam nuisance (ho ho). Why not also bluebirds. which have never been here? At least that way, we could let them loose in a certain port in Kent where there are cliffs of a chalky complexion, and make the nonsensical song come true.
The fact is, we are forever fiddling with nature, from the micro-level to the macro-level. I suspect that the cane toad is in for some brutal treatment, simply because it is (for some reason, genetically programmed, and unfathomable) unattractive to humans. It seems unfair. But then that’s what meddling like this is. Unfair.
And dishonest, low-down, dirty, mean, and, as Shakespeare had it, ‘most toad-spotted’. Oh dear.