Cane Toads As Means To Riches

Cairns, Australia, is marking Toad Day Out this weekend. Cane toads are a pest, and there's a $50 Australian award for the capture of living cane toads, which were introduced from Hawaii and have devastated wildlife and hurt pets for 75 years. It might be a moneymaking proposition.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This weekend, folks in northern Australia will be holding an unusual event. It's called Toad Day Out. It's a way to rid the area of a pest and to earn some cash. NPR's Art Silverman heard opportunity knocking.

ART SILVERMAN: Two words: cane toads.

Ms. LISA AHRENS (Organizer, Toad Day Out): We have a $50 bounty on the heads or on the bodies, full bodies, of cane toads presented to us live and undamaged.

SILVERMAN: There you go. That's Lisa Ahrens. She came up with this get rich quick scheme, and she's been thinking outside the bog.

(Soundbite of cane toad)

SILVERMAN: Up to now I've been pretty ignorant about cane toads, but I can recognize an easy buck when I hear one.

(Soundbite of cane toad) SILVERMAN: Cute critter, huh?

(Soundbite of cane toad)

SILVERMAN: No. They're ugly, bloated with poison and they can have a body size up to that of a small dog. But at 50 bucks a pop, I figure I can bag a lot of them.

Ms. AHRENS: They're simple to catch. They're just so full of themselves. They think that they own the world. They act like they own the world, and they just still and wait for you to come at them.

SILVERMAN: Well, that sounds like easy money. Is that Australian $50 or U.S. dollars?

Ms. AHRENS: Yes, I'm sorry. The exchange rate is not so hot, is it? It's $50 Australian.

SILVERMAN: Fifty Australian dollars is about $35 in real money. Every female cane toad produces 70,000 eggs a year. Cane toads have no natural predators, except for me.

(Soundbite of cane toad)

SILVERMAN: Cane toads are not native to Australia and have been killing wild animals and pets there. Story is some outside element stupidly introduced them to the continent.

Ms. AHRENS: Well, you know what? It's you guys that brought these toads over here. These were actually imported from Hawaii 75 years ago to control the cane beetle. The clever person that brought them over and released them didn't realize that cane beetles live up in the top of the sugar cane and toads can't climb.

SILVERMAN: Oh.

LARRY: Thank you for calling Qantas. My name is Larry. How can I help you?

SILVERMAN: Hi, Larry. We heard about a contest in Cairns, Australia. And I was trying to figure how much it would cost for me to get there for this weekend from Washington, D.C. to Queensland. They're offering $50 Australian per toad, if you catch a cane toad there.

LARRY: Yeah, a round trip…

SILVERMAN: Yeah.

LARRY: Say, leaving tonight…

SILVERMAN: Okay.

LARRY: And I have a flight that goes out of JFK at 6:40 PM. It goes JFK, L.A., L.A., Brisbane, Brisbane to Cairns.

SILVERMAN: Sounds good.

LARRY: And that round trip is $1,994.17.

SILVERMAN: Okay. That's American dollars.

LARRY: Yes, sir.

SILVERMAN: So that's about two grand or 57 cane toads to break even.

Ms. AHRENS: Well, Art, I guess it might not be worth monetary gain for you to come and visit us, but you'd have a lot of fun.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SILVERMAN: Okay. And next year, maybe some of you guys can come over and help us with this wild kangaroo population that's taken over Washington, D.C.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SILVERMAN: Art Silverman, aspiring professional toad plucker, NPR News.

(Soundbite of song, "Waltzing Matilda")

Mr. TOM WAITS (Singer): (Singing) Waltzing Matilda. Waltzing Matilda, you'll go waltzing Matilda with me.

SIEGEL: You're listening to Tom Waits and to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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