Thursday, November 22, 2007

~ the cane toads of cthulhu

Perhaps it’s time to ignore Saturday and concentrate for a little while on something altogether more wholesome…

After Nikki, the second item of interest I discovered in Queensland was the toad. [The third was probably the stomach of deputy premier Russ Hinze.] I saw something alluring in the universally reviled bufo marinus. It was like something which had lurched, whole and entire, from the pages of H P Lovecraft.

I was fascinated by the many tales of its extraordinary durability… A fat toad which survived overnight and then indefinitely whilst impaled and writhing on a pitchfork tine … on cracker nights, the stuffing and detonation of toads with explosives, and the toads’ subsequent return to their normal daily lives… An even fatter toad which Nikki would find at the dog-food bowl, wolfing the dog's dinner… and which she would shoo away with a broom ...

Nikki and her brother Chopper shot a toad nine times with an air rifle before it – Nikki recalls with a shudder – just hopped away.

And only yesterday, a man with a hideous welding injury to his eye recounted tales of a childhood in which he and his mates would douse toads with petrol by night, light them up, and watch the flaming lumps leap about randomly in the dark. It’s awkward, I know, but when it comes to toads the issue of animal cruelty seems to instantly disqualify itself.

Way back when, Nikki would post dried out toads to me in Melbourne; frozen in their death agonies after hopping into her parents’ empty pool and dessicating in the merciless Queensland sun. I would free the eye sockets of biological matter and insert plastic jewels. It was the closest I ever came to realising my ambitions as a taxidermist. I’d even purchased books on the subject, and listed it as my primary interest in one of those short biographical boxes they had in Smash Hits – but when it came to the crunch ... the handling of dead animal flesh and acquisition of the same ... well, I didn’t make the cut. Tinkering with mummified toads was the whole of my flirtation with the art of taxidermy.

I was, and still am, fascinated by the myths that surround them. And by their slow, inexorable conquest of the Australian continent. It’s scary, isn’t it? And is it true that when a toad is squashed on the road and it rains, the gut-pool will turn an opaque white?

I recall being told that some birds - crows, I think – had developed an immunity to the creature’s poisons, a taste for their flesh, and an efficient method of killing them. That was cause for hope, but it was a long time ago. I think the toads won that particular evolutionary struggle.

I should give a nod to the documentary – Cane Toads: An Unnatural History – and the shadowy figure of the terminal bufotenine addict it portrays. And no, I have never licked a toad. Yet I believe I know what it would be like…

I see ancient walls and spires and ramps. Ruins, far beyond the human scale, beneath the dim light of a baneful star… abandoned for aeons, yet presided over still by a formless, nameless horror… Upon the walls, a fell alien script and with it crumbling images of noisome tentacled creatures - at their hub, always, a single leering eye, contemplating something forever unknown, something I could only describe as evil. Surely, these were the terrible beings who built this nightmare city…?

Now I feel a breath of wind… and with it the odour of decay, and something … else … has something opened? A door? I spin wildly about, but there is nothing … I listen. A dead silence. Or is that the faint sound of moiling jelly, wet movements upon the broken stone … hulking beasts lubricated by slime as they climb and descend the ancient ramps … Cold horror mounts in my soul… these creatures, these grotesque malignant creatures … they live.…

Once I swallowed a tab of Japanese acid. The whole night all I saw were circuit boards and pulsing LEDs … in chair, in carpet, in sky. Anyway, it’s much the same thing

When I arrived at Point Lookout this time, I found the following article [archived, from the Sunday Mail] pinned above the toilet [along with the words to Emo Kid, an image of Captain Fat and another article titled ‘Glitter’s Cuban Bolthole’ (‘bolthole’ had been changed to ‘butthole’ with a texta. )

I have to say, this is the kind of stuff that really turns me on. I couldn’t see the date but, wary of disappointment, I assumed it was April first. Nikki assures me not.

This ‘notorious’ sulawesi macaque has an ‘unsocial’ addiction to ‘poisonous bufo toxin’. He is ‘hooked on the high generated by licking cane toads.’ Apparently, he carries one around habitually, [I guess like a tinnie.] ‘He just sits in his tree, gets stoned and looks at the sky.’ So why doesn’t this welfare recipient have his handouts quarantined?

“Despite [zoo keeper] Mr Husband’s best efforts, Picassa refuses to kick the habit. ‘He’s got a taste for it now,’ he said.”

Sadly, I couldn’t access the whole of this article from the Cairns Post.

“It’s all about right of choice. His glazed eyes staring into the sky, Picassa the junkie monkey is off his face. Hooked on his unusual habit, the stoned three-year-old macaque is riding high on the toad's back. "I call him the junkie monkey," says handler Tim Husband of the Mareeba Wild Animal Park… Licking the hallucinogenic poison, known as bufotenine, off the back of a cane toad seems to spin the big monkey's wheel.”

His home - the Mareeba Wild Animal Park - is, sensibly, using his notoriety as a tourist attraction. And they appear to have changed his name to Moon Rider. Much snappier.

“Look out for the notorious toad-licking Japanese Macaque. He is easily spotted as he usually carries a cane toad around in one hand! For those who don't know, cane toads have a toxin in their skins, which produces an unwholesome hallucinogenic high if ingested. The degenerate Moon Rider must have figured this out and consequently has become addicted to toad-licking.

"Despite the zookeepers efforts to prevent any toads getting into his enclosure, unfortunately he still manages to catch himself a toad once every few days.”

But isn't it Moon Rider's business if he licks toads or not? Are these zoo-keepers transposing their human morality on a monkey...?

My interest has also been piqued by a Sunday Mail mention of two teachers who were ‘jailed for farming large numbers of cane toads in their back yard for the specific purpose of licking them’. Couldn't learn much on the net, save that North Carolina has a related environmental problem with armadillos [or Texas speed bumps].

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Ann O'Dyne said...

Yes "they hit just the right note" and so did you.
very clever post, I enjoyed every nuance from title to conclusion.
Being very intense about
Ethical Treatment Of Animals,
I cannot help wondering if
the toad needs to be alive for the licking?
Hopefully, there are enough people around who want to get high so badly they will lick a cane toad; and hopefully this will result in a higher regard for toads and the humane dispatch thereof.

Sam Sejavka said...

Ta, Miss O'Dyne [of many names?]. Pleased you enjoyed it. It seems that in the treatment of cane toads people get confused as to what's ethical. Including me. Is one destroying an animal or an eldritch horror? I was going to tread on one last night, but as always I couldn't bring myself to just murder one in cold blood. Despite it being the spawn of Hell.

Something I forgot to mention in the post. This New Scientist article reveals that the biggest, fastest toads in the vanguard of their conquering swarms are succumbing to severe arthritis. ‘About 10% of large adult toads had big bony lumps on their backbones ... Dissections revealed that the toads suffered from fused spinal joints, symptomatic of arthritis …The researchers believe that the toads' spines are being worn down.’

Also, paraphrasing, "It looks like the toads' immune system is under such pressure that they're actually now vulnerable to attack by … a common, otherwise benign soil bacteria called Ochrobactrum anthropi …. That gives us a hint that maybe the toads' immune systems are a real Achilles' Heel."

They tested the progress of arthritic toads against healthy ones and – you guessed it – the infected ones were ‘at least as fast’ as the others.

One more thing … Sorry to waffle on, but I get weirdly excited about toads … Under the shadow of the toads’ arrival, an NT school asked its students ‘to design a cane toad proof creature. Here somewhere are the charming results .

And one more link particularly for Ann O’Dyne.

Would a Buddhist Freeze a Cane Toad?

Anonymous said...

Sorry Sam to react with a "yuukkk" again on your comments, but licking cane toads to get high is so grosssss!!! IS that photo real or a send-up?
Although they're revolting, it made me sad to read what people do to the poor toads for amusement. Enjoy the rest of your holiday (no toad licking now)
Love Amanda

lily was here said...

A canetoad contraceptive could be in order? From 130 brought here to Oz, a year later they released 3,000 bred in captivity from just those few toads! They're highly sexed it seems. Ann o'dyne, are you recommending despatching humans seeing as licking them is highly toxic to our species :)
At least those NT students were exploring their imaginations, something so lacking in many schools, a topic I get highly passionate about. I worked in Humpty Doo once when travelling.. a banana farm ..and Sam, you wouldve loved it. I was surrounded by pythons, rats and huge spiders!! No cane toads from memory. My co-worker, a tattooed hippy, kept a death adder as a pet, in her empty fishtank!

Sam Sejavka said...


The photo is a redirect from the Marreba zoo site. As far as I can tell this Junky Monkey thing is the real deal

Anonymous said...

Love Amanda

Ann O'Dyne said...

I am not going to follow links that might have cruel animal stuff.

I used to think
those "do not step on an ant" Buddhists were OK until
I found out they believe women have smaller brains than men.

They have obviously never met Dr Helen Caldicott or IanMeldrum.

Sam Sejavka said...

Just on that Buddhist thing, I wholly agree. Amongst all the truly enlightened stuff, there's a lot of bad thinking. The strictures against homosexuality were what first surprised me. Probably best to pick and choose when it comes to Buddhism

Ann, didn't mean anything too much by that link, just thought it might be interesting.