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March 24, 2021

Reggie the cane toad detector dog

Most of us have come across a detector dog (or two) at the airport, usually a tail-wagging beagle. Now meet Reggie, the Springer Spaniel and fearless cane toad detector dog. Ironically, Reggie is named after Reginald Mungomery, the man who introduced the cane toad to Australia.

We all know that cane toads are unwelcome creatures that have taken over many parts of Australia. Native to Central and South America, Cane toads were introduced to Australia from Hawaii in June 1935 by the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations in an attempt to control the native grey-backed cane beetle.

Since then, the cane toads have exploded through Australia and they are now moving westward at an estimated 40 to 60 km per year. Cane toads reached Brisbane by 1945, Burketown in north-western Queensland by the early 1980s, Iron Range on the Cape York Peninsula by 1983 and the tip of the Cape by 1994. By 1995, their westward expansion had reached the Roper River in the Gulf of Carpentaria in the Northern Territory. By March 2001, they had reached Kakadu National Park. In February 2009, cane toads crossed Western Australia’s border with the Northern Territory.

cane toad detector dog

cane toad detector dog ministerAbove: Reggie inspects a truck for hitch hiking cane toads. Photo: Peter Nicholas.

Right: WA Environment minister Albert Jacob meets Reggie and his handler Jackie Ellis.Photo: Peter Nicholas.

Enter Reggie, the cane toad detector dog. Reggie has been specifically trained to sniff out the noxious cane toads and is part of the arsenal in Western Australia’s fight against the feral species. One of the ways it is believed that the cane toads are travelling so far (given that they have gone from Queensland to Western Australia), is it is believed that they have been hitchhiking on and under trucks.

Reggie the cane toad detector dog is officially on the payroll of the Department of Parks and Wildlife. His job description is to inspect trucks in the Kimberley, looking for the “hitchhiker” cane toads. Springer spaniels are considered an ideal breed for cane toad detection because of their acute sense of smell, high energy levels and ability to act on command.

Since 2009 when the first cane toads were spotted in Western Australia’s Kimberly region the species has been expanding much faster than many initially expected. This has horrified local communities and alarmed researchers and volunteers who are concerned about protecting wildlife. A recent sighting of a cane toad in a Perth backyard has highlighted the urgency of the situation.

Western Australia is taking the problem seriously, with the government investing $7.8 million since 2008 in research and on-ground activities to help control the spread of invasive cane toads. Reggie’s role is integral to helping stem the flow of the toads.

If you live in Western Australia and you see a cane toad you should call the cane toad hotline on 1800 449 453. There is also a free Cane Toad App, produced by the Department of Parks and Wildlife.

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