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Cats, cows and cane toads invade Aussie property: ‘Really surprised’

A survey of the large Western Australian property showed one impact of the cane toads was the rapid loss of goannas.

Motion capture cameras have taken a grim snapshot of Australia’s declining natural environment, with cane toads, cattle and cats dominating the survey.

Cane toads were seen over 250 times at the remote Western Australia property, confirming reports the invasive pest is continuing to capture new territory.

The poisonous amphibians were snapped hopping across the Nyaliga Rangers on a former cattle property in the Eastern Kimberley between 2020 and 2022. Silas Purcell is a Nyaliga ranger at the 640,000-hectare property. He recalled when the toads first entered the region the goanna population suffered a decline, and that was reflected in the survey with only two of the reptiles detected.

Background. A man points at regions on a map. Insets - closeups of a cane toad and a feral cat.
Cats and cane toads were among the most frequently spotted animals at the Kimberley property. Source: WWF-Australia

In January, Yahoo reported the toads were also changing in appearance as they continued their conquest of Australia.

How many cane toads were actually seen?

The survey utilised 141 cameras and was supported by conservation charity World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia (WWF). Its cultural advisor Pius Gregory was shocked by how many feral cats were seen at the property.

“You can understand it around towns but being right out there really surprised me. We have to address pest species to save native animals. We’ve already lost too many native species in Australia,” he said.

Three Indigenous men look at a map of the Kimberley property on the bonnet of a ute.
Silas Purcell (right) said he'd noticed goannas disappearing from the property after cane toads invaded. Source: WWF-Australia

Invasive species have caused more wildlife extinctions than anything else in Australia. Because native mammals are declining across the Kimberley, the plan was to try and identify high conservation areas so rangers could focus their efforts on protecting them.

Here are the results of the pest species observations:

  • Cane toads 256 times at 20 sites.

  • Cats 52 times at 34 sites.

  • Cattle 145 times at 15 sites.

Is there any good news from the survey?

While the prevalence of invasive species were disappointing, it wasn’t all bad news. The team detected a usually elusive Ningbing false antechinus, a small carnivorous marsupial, that hadn’t been seen at the property before.

Other native species seen at the site were northern nail-tail wallabies, short-eared rock-wallabies, dunnarts, echidnas, and various reptile and bird species.

The plan is now to protect the property by reducing invasive species, destocking cattle and cultural fire management.

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