Call the toad cops on ping-pong sounds

2016-03-01 06:00
 A guttural toad. PHOTO: Otto Beukes

A guttural toad. PHOTO: Otto Beukes

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The discovery of an unwelcome toad in Noord­hoek has set off alarm bells in conservation circles. Invasive guttural toads have been found on a property near Seascape Road.

Noordhoek is an important breeding area of the endemic and endangered western leopard toad (Sclerophrys pantherinus), a close relative of the guttural toad (Sclerophrys gutturalis).

These species do not coexist naturally and this situation may cause several complications, explains Johan van der Merwe, Mayco member for energy, environmental and spatial planning.

Guttural and leopard toads look very similar.

Guttural toads have a deep, guttural, pulsed snore which superficially resembles the bounces of a dropped ping-pong ball. They are light to dark brown with pairs of darker brown patches, with a brown line down the back. There is a pale, prominent cross formed by two sets of dark brown patches between the eyes and they have a red infusion on the thighs.

Conservationists are concerned about competition for food, predation and hybridisation. It is not just the frogs themselves that can create problems, but the diseases and parasites that accompany the frogs may cause further environmental harm.

“Following this early detection of the guttural toads in Noordhoek, there must be a rapid response by conservation authorities, the invasive species unit and residents. If all the individuals, tadpoles and eggs can be found during this early stage of the invasion, guttural toads can be removed from Noordhoek completely,” Van der Merwe says.

“The survival of the endemic western leopard toad depends on access to uninvaded breeding grounds such as Noordhoek. The advance of the guttural toad must therefore be stopped before guttural toads become established and form a viable breeding population in Noordhoek.”

Control becomes extremely challenging and expensive later on. This can be seen in Constantia, where an intensive five-year-old control programme has been unable to stop the spread of guttural toads into Bishops­court.

Although the guttural toad is indigenous to South Africa, it does not naturally occur in the Western Cape.

Invasive species such as the guttural toad are introduced to areas outside their natural range either deliberately or accidentally. The likely scenario for an accidental introduction is that nursery plants were moved from an area where guttural toads naturally occur to Cape Town.

Once they arrived at their new habitat, they reproduced and established the colonies that are now invading many water bodies in Constantia and Bishops­court.

It could also be the case that well-meaning residents who do not want to harm animals, but also don’t want them in their gardens, physically relocate toads to natural areas around the city.

NCC Environmental Services, which is contracted by the City to run the guttural control programme in Constantia, will now also focus on the Noordhoek area.

V Residents are urged to email sightings of guttural toads immediately to gutturaltoad@ncc-group.co.za.

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