Cane toads collected, bagged, frozen for university by inquisitive Kimberley holidaymakers

“Squeals of delight and disgust” is how Bungle Bungle Savannah Lodge manager Natasha Faithfull described the most recent toad busting expedition, collecting specimens for a New Zealand university for dissection. 

A group of Kimberley travellers managed to snag more than 240 cane toads after their original plans for the day were washed away by rain.

The toads were part of a group of 500 frozen Kimberley specimens to be shipped off across the ditch to New Zealand.

Cane toads have been spreading fast across northern Australia with the latest front line reaching 40 kilometres east of Derby.

While most people would rather not have any toads in their freezer, researchers from the Massey University in New Zealand have been joyously accepting the Kimberley cane toads into theirs. 

“These toads are going to be used for dissection purposes for our students,” the university’s Odette Howarth said.

“They’ll get them in the lab and have a look at some comparative anatomy across phyla … basically for them to learn how animals work.

The arrangement first started in 2014 and it is going strong, with the next batch of cane toads ready to set to be sent over soon.

people crowding around a table with cane frogs on it
More than 400 toads have been collected, with the group nearly finished with their 500 headcount.(Supplied: Bungle Bungle Savannah Lodge)

Since 2004, more than 2.4 million cane toads have been collected by grassroots organisation Kimberley Toad Busters, and some of the toads have ended up in New Zealand.

It is a long journey to send the amphibians over, one that Kimberley toad buster Lee Scott-Virtue is all too familiar with.

“Every toad has to be frozen and then bagged in a single Ziplock bag, then placed in a freezer … for at least seven to 10 days before we actually then start processing them,” Ms Scott-Virtue said.

cane toads in hands
While institutions overseas are happy to take the toads, there’s little demand from Australian facilities.(Supplied: Western Australia Department of Parks and Wildlife)

Once the toads leave the Kimberley they are sent to a Brisbane university where they need to be irradiated to make sure they are not carrying harmful pests or bacteria into New Zealand.

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She said due to the rigorous cleaning schedule, the toads were not as smelly as you would expect on the cutting block.

The 500-head supply of cane toads should sustain the university for the next two years. 

“We’ll probably be getting through them a lot faster now that we’re sharing them with another of our campuses down in Palmerston North,” Ms Howarth said. 

Little demand from schools 

Ms Scott-Virtue said it was interesting to see little demand from Australian educational facilities for the toads.

“We’ve had no requests from any of the high schools around Australia, or the universities, for our frozen toads,” she said.

A group of people bagging toads.
Staff at Savannah Lodge scoured newly formed puddles to collect the toads, and taught guests how to bag the pests.(Supplied: Bungle Bungle Savannah Lodge)

But the NZ university hoped for more Kimberley toads in the coming years.

“We’ll go back to Lee and in a couple of years’ time we’ll get another shipment over,” Ms Howarth said.

The 500 frozen toads will start their long journey to New Zealand next week, starting with irradiation in Brisbane.

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