Movie Review: Cane Toads: An Unnatural History

Over a decade ago some of my friends told me I needed to see this hilarious documentary about cane toads taking over Australia. The problem is that I could not find a copy of the movie anywhere and soon forgot about it. Then a few weeks ago I was reading the news and saw a mention of cane toads and remembered that I was supposed to watch a documentary about them. So I checked my public library catalog and at last I found a DVD copy of Cane Toads: An Unnatural History (1988).

Despite what my friends and even the label of the DVD box say, I don’t think this movie is unintentionally humorous. Quirky yes and with a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgment of the absurdities of the situation, but first and foremost a good documentary.

The story begins in the Great Depression when beetle grubs were destroying the sugarcane crop in North Queensland. Officials learn of the voracious cane toad at an agricultural conference and dispatch an agent to Hawaii to gather up several dozen of them which are then brought to Australia and released. The problem is that the beetles fly well out rang of earthbound cane toads and the grubs feed at the time of year when there’s no cover so the cane toads have no interest in eating them. The cane toads do like to eat just about everything else though, decimating the local ecosystem (they even show a cane toad eat a live mouse!). Furthermore, because cane toad skin contains deadly toxins there are no predators that can eat them without dying a horrible death. Well-fed and not threatened the cane toads are free to do what they do best — make more cane toads!

Apparently the cane toad is something of a cultural icon in Queensland and every citizen has their opinion. On the one side there is the elderly couple who treat the cane toads like pets, children who use the cane toads in lieu of dolls, and local government official who wants to create a statue of a cane toad on a pedestal to attract tourists. The anti-cane toad bloc includes a naturalist with a grudge against the toads since they poisoned his pet cat, an aquarium biologist who stutters and stammers as he describes how misguided toads are strangling his fish in the act of love, and a man who dodges and weaves along the highway in a deliberate effort to pop the toads that litter the street. Okay, maybe this movie is a bit too silly, but it sure is educational.

More information on cane toads can be found on the internet:

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