The cane toads are back in all their croaking, hopping, poison-oozing glory. Mullumbimby-based filmmaker Mark Lewis has made a sequel to his cult 1988 documentary Cane Toads: An Unnatural History that's longer, funnier and in 3D (yes, really). But why return to the subject? "In the 23 years since the first film the toads have journeyed across the country into Western Australia," says Lewis. "They've evolved, they've adapted, they've grown stronger. Some are calling them ‘supertoads' now."
As recounted in the earlier film, the cane toad was imported from South America into North Queenland in 1935 to eat the larvae of the greyback cane beetle and save the sugar industry. The leathery immigrants did no such thing, but thrived and became an unstoppable pest. "Over the last 20 years the experts and the governments have thrown every single control method at the cane toads and every single one has failed."
The film explains that the process of natural selection has favoured those toads that take over new territory. "It's the ‘Olympic Village' effect," Lewis says. "The ones at the front line that are more athletic breed with each other, so you have the evolution of a sturdier toad. The Department of Conservation in WA said they had found toads that had worn their toes off because they were travelling so far."
While vigilante groups have sprung up to try and wipe them out, some biologists say it's time to live in harmony with them. "The abhorrent cruelty toward the toads is something I'm strongly opposed to," says Lewis. "The research has shown that when the toad arrives into an area the local fauna are upset, but over time a balance is created."
While the movie recounts a lot of anti-cane toad sentiment as well as a recorded incident of human death-by-toad, one character in the film who is welcoming the creatures, warts and all, is a dog called Dobby, who gets high by licking them. "An acid trip is a film cliché," Lewis admits, "but to do it in 3D and through the eyes of a dog was a lot of fun."
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