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Australian military may have brought toads to Timor: report

Agence France Presse - September 12, 2008

Sydney – The Australian military may have deployed more than just soldiers in East Timor – reports said Tuesday it could also have inadvertently introduced the pesky cane toad to the fledgling nation.

The toad, which carries a poisonous sac of venom on the back of its head toxic enough to kill snakes and crocodiles in minutes, is regarded as a noxious pest Down Under because it wreaks havoc on the environment.

Local media reported that the warty amphibian could have been making its way to East Timor hidden in Australian Defence Force vehicles and equipment since the force first intervened in East Timor in 1999.

Simplicio Barbosa, of Dili-based humanitarian organisation Care International, said the toads arrived along with the International Force for East Timor (INTERFET).

"(There are) so many toads in East Timor, they are brought by the INTERFET," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, adding that the animals were killing lots of chickens. "We don't know how to get them away, how to kill them."

Australian Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said he would investigate if the toads, which spread widely throughout Australia's north since their introduction in the 1930s, could have breached the military's quarantine controls.

"I have not had an opportunity to seek a briefing from the Chief of the Defence Force but I will certainly do so," he told reporters in the northern city of Darwin, which suffers its own cane toad problem.

Darwin's Lord Mayor Graeme Sawyer said it was likely the toads stowed away on military vehicles leaving the city, the departure point for many Australian troops heading to East Timor, and ended up in Dili.

"Cane toads are fantastic hitchhikers; they love crawling up under machinery and stuff to refuge during the day," he told the ABC. "Also, they get into loads of freight and stuff, they've turned up all over Australia in that mode, so it's quite likely."

The cane toad is extremely unpopular in Australia and some residents of toad-infested areas have taken to killing them by driving their cars over them or smashing them with golf clubs and cricket bats.

All attempts to fight the spread of the toads so far have failed and the animals, which are explosive breeders, have spread into the wetlands of world heritage Kakadu National Park.