Australian scientists have claimed controversial gene manipulation could be the answer to wiping out one of the country’s major pests, the cane toad, for good.
With current methods failing to make much of a difference CSIRO research director Dr Andrew Sheppard said it could be time to try something else with gene manipulation an ideal option.
Speaking with the federal parliament’s environment and energy committee this week, Sheppard explained the technology could see the population of cane toads effectively turned male.
“The gene technology is now available to drive a deleterious gene for cane toads,” The Courier Mail reports he said.
“In other words a gene that will cause cane toads to be less fit … (or) control it by turning the entire population male.”
However, he did warn that it is a fairly new approach and could be considered quite controversial.
The latest research follows calls from the RSPCA to not harm cane toads claiming it’s inhumane to end their lives.
In a submission to the Federal Government’s inquiry into controlling the spread of the creatures, the animal welfare organisation said the actions taken by some, especially in Far North Queensland, to kill the toads are “problematic”.
The measures including using golf clubs to belt the toads to death and poisoning them with chemicals such as Dettol were considered by the RSPCA as painful and distressing to the toads, that are often referred to as pests.
Instead, RSPCA Chief Executive Heather Neil suggested an alternative method that would see the adult cane toads survive and their offspring killed.
This would involve trapping tadpoles with a chemical attractant and then killing them via cooling and freezing, using a suppression pheromone on eggs or boosting native species predation of tadpoles.
“From an animal welfare perspective, there are less risks associated with eliminating pre-adult stages. Furthermore, these approaches are likely to be more cost effective and sustainable with fewer negative environmental impacts,” Neil said in the submission.
Neil added that the alternative method would see less toads subject to undue pain, potentially mitigating animal welfare risks.
“It is essential to consider that even though cane toads are considered a major pest and repulse most people, they are sentient animals and their welfare must be considered,” she said in the submission.