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Cane toads: a tale of sugar, politics and flawed science=

When cane toads were released in Australia in 1935, they were seen as the latest innovation for biological control of pests in sugar cane. Cane toads were promoted widely by sugar cane scientists but the science was flawed, and these flaws were magnified by the political necessity of supporting the sugar industry. It was the same in the Caribbean, Hawai‘i and Queensland when cane toads were introduced.

In Cane toads: a tale of sugar, politics and flawed science, which will be launched on 11 November, Nigel Turvey shows how, over almost 500 years, and only with the help of man, cane toads became one of the world’s most invasive species. Looking back we can see the flaws in the science, the gap between the observation that toads ate beetles and the conclusion that toads would control beetle populations. Turvey warns that ‘although today we have the best scientists on the job, the best scientists were also at work back then. It is simply wrong to think that we are qualitatively different today’.

‘There were few opponents to the introduction of the toad in Australia, and only one made his views public, the retired former New South Wales chief entomologist Walter Froggatt,' says Turvey. ‘In today’s terms he would be called a toad denier.’ But Turvey points out that ‘It wasn’t until 1975, 40 years after the toad’s release, that the first survey of the impact of cane toads on Australian fauna was done.’

Nigel Turvey is an environmental scientist, professional forester, businessman and writer. He is currently Adjunct Professorial Fellow at Charles Darwin University. He met cane toads in Queensland, watched them invade Darwin, and puzzled over who introduced them and why. In Cane toads Turvey reveals previously unreported government memos and letters from Queensland and Hawai‘i. They show that our scientists were strongly supported by international colleagues including the prestigious Hawaiian Sugar Planters’ Association, CSIR (the fore-runner of CSIRO), cane growers and political leaders including Queensland’s premier Bill Forgan-Smith, and the prime minister of Australia, Joe Lyons.

Turvey’s Cane toads is an absorbing and highly readable story, not just for scientists. Pen portraits of the events and the people who championed the toad are for a wide readership. Cane toads: a tale of sugar, politics and flawed science will be launched in Sydney as part of Sydney Ideas by Rick Shine, University of Sydney professor in evolutionary biology and cane toad expert. He will be joined by Capt. Michael A Lilly, grandson of Cyril Pemberton, the very scientist who, in 1935, recommended the cane toad for Australia.


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