Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Toxic toads, rotten rabbits and wild dogs

Australian scientists are using new technologies to combat some perennial pests – toxic toads and insidious rabbits that are driving away the country’s cockatoos. All this is under the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre( and (, using new technologies to combat invasive animals.

Commonwealth for Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) ( funds scientists from the Australian Animal Health Laboratory project in Geelong ... which is somewhere in this big island ... to engineer a virus that could be used to control the revolting cane toad (Bufo marinus), a pest that was introduced from another island nation, Hawaii, back in 1935 to tackle an earlier pest, cane beetles.

The snag: cane toads over-stayed and over-bred. They now occupy over a million hectares in Australia and are depleting the country’s quoll (carnivorous marsupials, otherwise known as native cats) and goanna (Australian monitor lizard) population. The warty toads apparently have complex battle lines. Instead of attacking in a single formation, cohorts of cane toads attack at staggered intervals.

CSIRO scientists are trying to introduce genes into a virus that infects cane toads. The genes will stop the cane tadpole into turning into an adult cane toad.

The invasive animals centre is also trying to tackle another menace – rabbits that are being held responsible for the disappearance of the red-tailed black cockatoos. Locally called “karaks”, these iconic birds were the official mascot of the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. Rabbits are eating away the vegetation that supports the karaks.

The centre is also making new baits to trap wild dogs and foxes that are attacking domestic livestock.

T V Padma, SciDev.Net South Asia, trawling the exhibition stalls and chatting up the stall staff at the 5th WCSJ

On the other hand, in another seminar, Roger Short of the University of Melbourne auggested that if Austraians ate more kangaroos and less beef, that would make a major contribution to global warming. Kangaroos fart less than cattle, it seems - certainly, they fart less methane. And they are superbly adapted to drought conditions.

Christina Scott, SciDev.Net Africa, participant in the seminar Life and Death in 2020: How will science respond? chaired by John Rennie of Scientific American magazine

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