Researchers have worked out a radical solution for Australia’s deadly cane toad problem.
They have trained wild monitor lizards, known locally as goannas, not to eat the toxic cane toads.
Scientists encouraged a group of vulnerable goannas in the Kimberley region to eat young cane toads, which taste unpleasant but are not large enough to be deadly.
Later, when the advancing large cane toads arrived on the remote flood plain, half of the trained lizards avoided eating the toads.
In contrast, 30 of the 31 untrained lizards died almost immediately after the toxic critters arrived.
‘Encountering a small live cane toad can change a predator’s behaviour in ways that protect it from subsequent encounters with large cane toads,’ the report said.
‘Releasing small toads then can offer a simple landscape-scale method to conserve wildlife populations by giving native predators an opportunity to learn rather than die.’
The report said it was the first real evidence that the strategy is realistic.
The method has previously only been used to train captive-bred animals such as quolls.