Pest Control in Australia: Cane Toads

Environmental Issue of the Week by Kasturi Kulkarni

"Australia Fences 'keep Toads at Bay'" BBC News. BBC News, 3 Feb. 2015. Web. 8 Feb. 2015. <>.

This was a factual, unbiased article about a possible solution to an Australian pest problem that has existed for many years. Cane toads, native of South America, were brought to Australia in the 1930s to control beetles that infested sugar cane, but they soon began to cause problems. The toads' population grew and spread rapidly; this is because Cane toads have almost no natural predators, and their toxins kill native animals that normally feed on frogs. The cane toads are poisonous, and they spread diseases that affect local biodiversity, making them a damaging pest that people have been working hard to exterminate. A recent study by experts at the University of New South Wales shows that toad-proof fences around dams could potentially stop the spread. In arid areas, researchers created fences made of shade cloth that were placed around dams, so toads were unable to jump over or burrow under them. The toads were attracted to the water, but would die while attempting to settle. This proved to be a very effective method of extermination, and the research team has been encouraging livestock farmers and wildlife agencies to implement this strategy.

To me, the actions in this article seem to be just. The extinction of the Cane toads will allow original species to thrive and for the ecosystem to return to the normal, the way it was before they were introduced. There is, however, the question of whether the killing of millions of Cane toads is ethical. Many people hold the belief that all animals have intrinsic value, that is, that they have value simply for existing. If this is the case, then are we to protect the Cane toads, as we would any other living thing, but allow them to spread? I disagree, and in this case, I think using fencing to trap the toads is an efficient way to solve the problem. It's not just because the Cane toads do not have instrumental value, because I don't believe an organism's worth should just be based on how humans can find them useful. This is the anthropocentric view. The main reason that getting rid of the Cane toads is justified is because of the destruction they cause. By exterminating Cane toads in Australia, we can bring the greatest good to the greatest number of organisms, which is ultimately the goal in environmental preservation.

My question is, when is pest control ethically justified? What has to be taken into account? Does it matter what type of pest it is (an insignificant insect vs. a frog)? Are certain methods preferred (the animal felt no pain), or are pests simply pests that must be disposed of at all costs? How do you justify the mass murder of another organism?

This gif shows the spread of the Cane toad in Australia from 1940 to 1980. Today, the Cane toad has reached the state of Western Australia.