Canine help to detect cane toads in the Clarence

AS CANE toads continue their unwelcome advance south in NSW, our Clarence Landcare toad busters have engaged an enthusiastic recruit on the front line of the toad biosecurity containment zone.


Dog trainer Steve Austin from Sydney bought his dogs to the Cane Toad Workshop at Rappville School to demonstrate how the dogs can sniff out cane toads. PIC; SUSANNA FREYMARK
Dog trainer Steve Austen with Tommy.

Tommy is an English springer spaniel trained to sniff out cane toads and his work here, with trainer Steve Austin, is helping to trial the effectiveness of sniffer dogs in detecting new cane toad arrivals.

The project is supported by North Coast Local Land Services, through funding from the Australian Government's Wildlife and Habitat Bushfire Recovery Program.

Cane toads are an alert species in the North Coast Regional Strategic Pest Animal Management Plan because they represent a significant threat to the region's biodiversity.

Nigel Blake from North Coast Local Land Services said the community must work together to ensure early detection of cane toads to enable swift and effective management of the species.

"Cane toads are a huge biosecurity concern. We know that they are great hitchhikers and stowaways and they are increasingly turning up in areas all over NSW," he said.

"Land managers and community members play a critical role in reporting any sightings of cane toads."

It's been a tough year for the local toad control program after fires removed most of the undergrowth, making it easier for toads to travel, followed by drought-breaking rains and an increase in breeding.



Now, COVID-19 restrictions have made the collection efforts by volunteers and contractors very difficult.

"These challenges are why the potential for detection dogs to assist in the early capture of these incomers is exciting and something we hope to use in other parts of the region," Mr Blake said.

Fig Forest, Clarence Landcare's Cane Toad project co-ordinator, said Shark Creek, in the lower Clarence, is just beyond the biosecurity containment zone for toads.

"Tommy lets us know if any toads have hopped this far yet. Thankfully no toads were detected. We've seen evidence of red-belly black snakes along the creek which indicates that toads have not arrived yet. Red-bellies are usually the first victims of toads as they mistake young toads for their normal diet of native frogs."


PAW-SOME WORK: Tommy the cane toad detection dog and handler, Steve Austin, hard at work in the Lower Clarence floodplain. Photo: Nigel Blake
PAW-SOME WORK: Tommy the cane toad detection dog and handler, Steve Austin, hard at work in the Lower Clarence floodplain. Photo: Nigel Blake


It is important that cane toads spotted in the biosecurity zone are reported. The DPIE guide for reporting cane toads explains what to do if you spot a toad. Click HERE for more information.