How one village is beating the cane toad invasion by crowning a king and queen

ABOVE: Queen Bernice Sigley and King (stand-in) Peter Ballintyne celebrate their winning cane toad catch.

Susanna Freymark

It is a new tradition on Australia Day in Bonalbo – cash prizes for the heaviest cane toad.

The prize might only be $50 but it gets people out catching the toads that are then weighed before the official Australia Day award ceremony at the bowlo.

Bernice Sigley moved from Mullumbimby to Bonalbo in 2007.  She was a park ranger for 23 years and was attracted to the area specifically because there weren’t any cane toads.

In the last two years, the cane toad population has been growing, Bernice said.

She believes the 2019 bushfires opened up the range.

The impact on the biodiversity in the Bonalbo area was immediate, Bernice said.

A frozen cane toad is weighed.

While the white ibis and native water rat have evolved to eat the poisonous toad, most other animals such as the red-bellied black snake die if they eat a cane toad.

Bernice said she saw 37 dead turtles two years ago, and believes they ate cane toad tadpoles.

So, the hunt began.

Residents trek the paddocks and ponds at night time to catch toads.

Humid nights are best, Bernice said.

We’ve gone from 200–300 collected toads in one year to 40–50 this year, she said.

The biggest toads are kept for weighing on January 26.

Each frozen toad is weighed and the heaviest one gives its catcher the auspicious title of King or Queen Toad Cane Buster.

Could this beast be a winner?

Bernice won this year with a 4.18kg cane toad and was crowned Queen.

Oscar Ballintyne came second and his father Peter Ballintyne from Adelaide accepted the paper crown on his behalf.

Border Ranges Landcare work with the community in organised cane toad hunts.

The Australia Day tradition is heaps of fun and has become a fixture on the Bonalbo calendar.

At least, until there are no more cane toads.

The RSPCA recommends the freezing method to kill cane toads.

Watching the weigh-in of the cane toads at Bonalbo Bowlo. Photos: Susanna Freymark

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