Cane toads: these four-pound poisonous toads wreak havoc on Australian ecosystems. They displace native species that share their niche, kill predators in swathes due to their toxicity, and consume huge amounts of "good" species (such as dung beetles). But a clever research collaboration between the University of Sydney, Western Australia's Parks and Wildlife, and BalanggarraRangers may at least help some of Australia's unluckiest native predators: yellow-spotted monitor lizards, whose populations have dropped by 90%

The researchers trained wild lizards to stop eating cane toads by feeding them young, less poisonous toads. The lizards quickly realized that the              toads were unpalatable, but lived to see another day (unlike lizards who prey on the toxic adults). In other words, they learned to stop eating cane toads! 

When the wild lizards were tracked after their training session, the researchers found that over half of the 16 trained lizards survived, whereas all but one of 31 untrained monitor lizards died (due to cane toad consumption and other causes). In other words, the program of ecological immunization worked. Animal learning may indeed be the newest tool of conservationists.


Thank you to resident Aussie Elliott Bannan for sending along this article!