Sunday, March 29, 2009

Australians celebrate with toad killing festival

In a celebration that would make PETA very upset hundreds of Australians celebrated as thousands of poison toads were killed.

"To see the look on the faces of the kids as we were handling and weighing the toads and then euthanizing them was just...," Townsville City Councilman Vern Veitch said, breaking off to let out a contented sigh. "The children really got into the character of the event."

The toads _ which can grow up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) in length _ were imported from South America to Queensland in 1935 in a failed attempt to control beetles on sugarcane plantations. Trouble was, the toads couldn't jump high enough to eat the beetles, which live on top of cane stalks.

The toads bred rapidly, and their millions-strong population now threatens many local species across Australia. They spread diseases, such as salmonella, and produce highly toxic venom from glands in their skin that can kill would-be predators. The toads are also voracious eaters, chomping up insects, frogs, small reptiles and mammals _ even birds. Cane toads are only harmful to humans if their poison is swallowed.

Queensland politician Shane Knuth, a longtime nemesis of the cane toad who came up with the Toad Day Out idea, figured the best way to combat the problem was to gather Australians en masse for a targeted hunt. With each adult female cane toad capable of producing 20,000 eggs, he said, killing even a few thousand toads could ultimately wipe out millions.

On Saturday night, participants fanned out under the cloak of darkness to hunt down the toads. On Sunday, the toads _ which the rules stated must be captured alive and unharmed _ were brought to collection points and examined by experts to ensure they were not harmless frogs. The creatures were then killed, either by freezing or by being placed in plastic bags filled with carbon dioxide. Some of the remains will be ground into fertilizer for sugarcane farmers.

Oh, what a heartwarming family festival. They've got to be proud. The kids are so excited as the toads are weighed and then killed. Yay, we're killing frogs!

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