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Toxic Toad Problem? Join The Club

Australia's environment minister on Thursday endorsed violent means for killing a Central American species of toxic toad that is hopping across the nation's north and threatening wildlife.

The dreaded cane toads were imported to the northeastern state of Queensland in 1935 in a failed attempt to control beetles on sugar cane plantations. Since then, the noxious toads have migrated to Australia's northern coast and south into parts of New South Wales state, killing many of the native animals that eat them.

Environment Minister Ian Campbell told reporters in Australia's northernmost city of Darwin, which faces an invasion of the cane toads within a year, that he used to shoot the "nasty little critters" as a boy in the Queensland capital.

"I would encourage anything that has a practical effect on stopping cane toad numbers," he said. "I remember as a child growing up in Brisbane I used to shoot them with my air rifle."

"That was relatively ineffective, I can report," he added.

Campbell endorsed the bloody response advocated by the government lawmaker who represents Darwin, David Tollner. Tollner created public outrage last week when he said the best way to stop the toads' spread was to bludgeon them on the head with golf clubs or cricket bats as he did as a child.

"We hit them with cricket bats and golf clubs and the like back then," Tollner told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

"If people can be encouraged to do it, rather than discouraged, the better our chance will be of stopping the cane toads arriving in Darwin and other parts of the top of Australia," he added.

Australia's foremost animal welfare agency, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, responded by warning that anyone caught causing pain and suffering to a cane toad could be fined or jailed.

Animal welfare groups say the best way to kill them is to freeze them.

The poisonous toads are known in their native Venezuela as marine toads because of their ability to survive in salt water.

They were imported from Mexico and have spread west through Queensland and into the adjoining Northern Territory and are expected to eventually invade the tropical north of Western Australia state, killing native wildlife that feed on them including crocodiles and endangered marsupials called quolls.

The federal government is investigating biological means of preventing the toads from reproducing.