Lonely Planet Writer

Madagascar wrestles with 4m toxic toads wreaking havoc

The idea of a toxic toad may seem funny, but it’s no laughing matter in Madagascar, where scientists are calling for an urgent eradication of the toxic Asian toad. A report published by Last Planet says that the window of opportunity for Madagascar to get rid of the toad is closing fast.

A toxic Asian toad, indigeonous to South East Asia
A toxic Asian toad, indigeonous to South East Asia Image by Bernard DuPont / CC BY 2.0

The toxic toad presents a very serious threat to the island’s unique biodiversity and even to the island’s human population and its economy.

There are an estimated 4 million toads in Madagascar, currently focused in the area around the port city of Toamasina. But the report warns that their reach is expanding at a rate of 2km a year. It’s thought that the toads first arrived in Madagascar in 2007 transported by South Asian freight containers. They weren’t identified however until 2014, once the damage they were causing had begun to make itself apparent.

The toads are also known as Javanese toads, and are considered toxic because they secrete a milky residue in their wake which is highly poisonous to mammals, snakes, and  birds. On top of that they’re long-living and their populations grow aggressively, with 40,000 eggs being hatched a year per toad.

Madagascar. Image by Frontierofficial / CC BY 2.0

The report stresses that the toads must be eradicated as soon as possible before eradication will become impossible. They estimate the cost of the mission is of $2-$10 million, a steap fee for a country like Madagascar with very little infrastructure.

An eradication expert from New Zealand, James Reardon, warned of the extreme threat the Javanese toad presented to the whole of Madagascar, which is famed for its biodiversity and its endemic wildlife.“If the toads become established in the Pangalanes canal system — one of the longest manmade canals in the world,” he told the Guardian, “Eradication will no longer be an option, and they will likely cause ecological damage similar to that of the cane toad in Australia.”

The report goes on to describe the severity of the damage the toads could do to the world, if Madagascar’s unique ecosystem were to be so utterly damaged. “Despite its heavily degraded state Madagascar still has a large number of endemic species likely to be impacted by the toad. Toads will impact food chains from both the top and the bottom, either of which could eventually affect the ecology across much of the country.”

The Asian toad came to Madagascar on freights from South East Asia
The Asian toad came to Madagascar on freights from South East Asia Image by Bernard DuPont / CC BY 2.0

The report recommends a complete eradication. It points to how the toads would eventually damage the tourism industry, as well as potentially bring about exporting restrictions, and even cause an increase in black rats on the island given the diminished population of predators. Madagascar has a very rural community, and frogs are a common dish, which presents an added danger.

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Madagascar’s wonderous wildlife