Cane toads: the conquest

A new mockumentary about the invasion of cane toads is both entertaining and informative.
By Carolyn Barry November 7, 2013 Reading Time: < 1

IF THERE’S ANYTHING THAT can show the endearing side of a cane toad, then it’s the mockumentary Cane Toads: the conquest, soon to hit Australian cinemas.

With tongue firmly in cheek, the documentary-style film takes the audience through the story of the cane toad – from its humble beginnings of 102 individuals released in Sarina, north Queensland, and the high hopes of its ending the cane beetle pest, to its exponential invasion to the south, north and western coasts of the country.

Scientific experts who studied the toads back in the ’60s (as well as contemporary researchers) are interviewed, as well as a host of people with a broad range of opinions and stakes in the cane toad march: a cane farmer, dog owner, vet, toad pet owner, conservationist, town mayor, hippy, cane toad artist, and the list goes on.

The audience is taken, chronologically through the cane toads’ march across Australia, where interviews with locals and experts are interspersed with great cinematography of cane toads and the occasional re-enactment of events, including a memorable sequence of Dobby the dog who became addicted, as some pets do, to licking cane toads to get high.

The film’s subversive humour puts an entertaining bent on what could be a dry subject. Both the interviewees and toads themselves become characters in the film’s exploration of the cultural side of these pests. One character, a Queenslander who taxidermies toads into scenes of football matches and nightclub outings, also laments the loss of his beloved pet toad who ended up so big that it couldn’t hop anymore. And then there’s the cane farmer whose vitriol towards the toads is palpable. As a Queenslander, I could identify with this sentiment, but found myself enjoying the many views.

Though cane toads are rated among the worst invasive species in the world, you come away from this film with a new kind of appreciation them – after all, the toads’ apparent invincibility and remarkable ability to adapt to any environment (rainforest, desert, tropical, sub-tropical) is seriously impressive. And so are their numbers. There is scene upon scene where the hopping toads seem to fill the screen. It’s hard to believe this is real footage.

You also come away a little depressed at the damage the toads have done and the inevitable invasion of one of our most precious habitats: the Kimberley. In fact, there is currently an Australian Geographic scientific expedition underway in the Kimberley to record and monitor the zoological and botanical habitats that could be invaded by cane toads as early as the end of the year.

As one of the many interviewees notes, Australians are a pretty clever bunch who have come up with some amazing game-changing inventions, but this little toad has us stumped.

Cane Toads: the conquest hops into cinemas on June 2.
Showings are available in 2-D but the 3-D version enriches the icky experience.

Video: Cane toads: the conquest trailer

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