An Australian businessman has a plan for getting rid of one of the continent's most despised animals, the toxic cane toad. The entrepreneur from Queensland thinks there is an untapped market for toad venom, skin and meat for use in traditional Chinese medicine and as a delicacy.
As many as 200 million cane toads in Australia pose a threat to native wildlife.
Reviled by many Australians, the cane toad has fans in China, where it is a popular ingredient in a range of traditional medicines. Its toxin is used as a heart stimulant and as a diuretic as well a remedy for sinusitis and toothache. The animal's skin and organs are also thought to have therapeutic qualities.
John Burey, who runs a meat processing company in the northern state of Queensland, thinks there is huge demand in China for the toads. "The Chinese have been using cane toads with their skins, etcetera, in traditional medicines for many, many years now. You know, I thought there was a possibly an opportunity there to try and turn a pest into something that might be profitable," he says.
Burey travels to Beijing next month for talks with prospective clients. He will have to sort out quarantine and licensing formalities with both Australian and Chinese authorities before he can begin exporting toads.
The toads are native to the Americas. They were brought to Queensland in the 1930s in an unsuccessful attempt to eradicate beetles that were destroying sugar cane plantations. They have bred prolifically and have advanced across Australia's tropics at a rate of 40 to 50 kilometers a year.
Toxin courses throughout the toad's body and is produced as a milky liquid from large swollen glands located over its shoulders. The venom can kill dogs and cats. It can also cause temporary blindness and excruciating pain in people if the poison gets into the eyes or mouth.
The toads have been devastating to Australia's unique wildlife - freshwater crocodiles, snakes and marsupials that try to eat the toads have been no match for the toxins they secrete. And they gobble up small animals, which have no defenses against the toad.
Most efforts to curb their spread have failed, and many people resort to killing the toads with poison gases or by freezing them. One politician sparked outrage when he suggested that residents kill the hated toads with cricket bats and golf clubs.