New Monash University virtual tech helps fight cane toads in Kimberley

Jane MurphyBroome Advertiser
Cane toads are moving rapidly across the northwest of the country.
Camera IconCane toads are moving rapidly across the northwest of the country. Credit: Craig Mills

A new computer program created by Monash University scientists is offering a new way to manage the impending invasion of cane toads into the Kimberley.

The program, coined virToad, enables scientists and conservation managers to test cane toad management strategies in a virtual world before they are rolled out in real life.

The cane toad has long been a destructive force on Australia’s wildlife. With skin glands filled with poison, the toads have the potential to quickly kill any animal who tries to eat them — goannas, quolls, snakes, crocodiles and many more.

The species was originally brought to Australia from Hawaii in 1935 in an attempt to control beetles damaging sugar cane plantations but have since spread.

They move up to 50km per year and are expected to reach Derby within a year and Broome within four.

Management practices in the central Kimberley are currently centred on preparation.

East of Fitzroy Crossing, Environs Kimberley’s Kimberley Nature Project team has been assisting Gooniyandi Rangers assess sites while considering different control methods, including fencing and collecting by hand.

Monash University School of Biological Sciences PhD candidate Arman Pili said he hoped the program would be a useful tool for conservationists in the Kimberley.

“Since the arrival of the cane toad in the Kimberley region more than a decade ago, the future of the region’s wildlife seemed grim,” Mr Pili said.

“With virToad, conservation managers have an edge against cane toad invasions.

“By playing virToad, they can develop the most cost-efficient management plan that can suppress and even eradicate cane toads in the critical wildlife habitats in the Kimberley.”

The team of researchers also plan to develop virToad into a computer game that the general public can play.

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