DEAR DR. FOX: I respect your opinions on most all issues, and greatly appreciate your care and concern for animals. Here in south Florida, we have a tremendous problem with Bufo toads, which are highly toxic to dogs, cats and even small children. Many, many dogs are killed by interaction with these creatures. What is your advice on this very serious matter? -- D.W., Jupiter, Florida
DEAR D.W.: I have no quick and simple answers to offer, primarily because most solutions involving poisonous sprays or attractive baits laced with poisons often harm non-target species. Avoidance is the best preventive measure, and we must hope that expanding populations of noxious species will ultimately "crash" due to competition and limitation of natural resources. This could well be the fate of our own noxious species!
Increased rainfall and rising temperatures associated with climate change create ideal conditions for the proliferation of these toxic toads. Cane toads do well in central and south Florida's urban environments, with hundreds of human-made lakes and canals and plenty of bugs year-round. When the rains come, there are even more bugs, and the toads then breed and multiply to cover roads, trails and yards. With no natural predators, they are out-competing indigenous amphibians and small reptiles for food. And like the human-released exotic boas and pythons in the Everglades, in particular, these toads are disrupting the health and biodiversity of ecosystems.
We can blame ourselves, in part, for the proliferation of some species over others by our negative impact on biodiversity and natural habitats, along with our contribution to the climate crisis.
My advice is to prevent companion animals and infants from making contact with these amphibians. This calls for people to be hypervigilant and take every precaution: Never allow unsupervised ventures outdoors, and have yards cleared of dense vegetation that attracts toads. Keep dogs on the leash when out on walks, and keep cats indoors -- or outdoors only in enclosed, toad-proof enclosures or "catios."
D.W. REPLIES: Thanks for the reply, and I respect your opinion very much. However, I have to ask you about solving the problem of getting rid of these invasive creatures, which have no predators. Your reply does not solve the problem. I feel like something has to be done besides avoidance.
Florida Fish and Wildlife says to put Orajel on the toads and put them in your freezer. I think that is ridiculous, and I would appreciate your advice.
During the last year or so, I have had good success in reducing the number of toads in my neighborhood with the use of a pellet gun from very short range. I have since noticed an increased number of tree frogs and other small creatures. My neighbors and myself are still very careful with our dogs, but we have much more peace of mind with fewer Bufo toads.
DEAR D.W.: Catching these toxic cane toads, putting some gel on them and freezing them to death may actually be more humane than hit-or-miss shooting or smashing them to death.
I see no alternative to actual eradication of most invasive and nonindigenous species. This effort would have to employ trained volunteers and animal control and handling experts, depending on the species, by state and federal authorities. This is preferable to relying on local communities and property owners to deal with such matters, which could have negative, unforeseen consequences -- significant animal suffering, accidental human injury, killing of non-target species, etc. In some instances, military sharpshooters are called in, as with the control of feral pigs.
Sometimes making the environment less hospitable, such as removing undergrowth in yards, will reduce toad numbers, just like having secure garbage containers will help reduce raccoon numbers. These methods work community by community without having to apply lethal methods such as poisoned baits and inhumane trapping/relocation.
In other instances, as with coyotes moving to new territories, communities learn to accommodate the animals (as per the protocols of Project Coyote, projectcoyote.org) rather than exterminate. Extermination is not effective in preventing coyote incursion at any rate, and may actually encourage further incursion!
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