Page last updated at 07:08 GMT, Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Chinese medicine market sought for cane toad poison

By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Cane toads (Ben Phillips)
Cane toads - native to the Americas - pose a threat to Australian wildlife

Australia's most notorious pest, the pervasive and poisonous cane toad, could soon end up on dinner tables and in medicinal treatments in Asia.

A representative from a Queensland meat processing firm is travelling to China next month to negotiate an export deal.

There are an estimated 200 million cane toads in Australia, where they pose a major threat to native wildlife.

Reviled in Australia, the cane toad is a popular ingredient in a range of traditional medicines in China.

Its toxins are used as a heart stimulant and as a diuretic as well a remedy for sinusitis and toothache.

The animal's skin and organs are also thought to have powerful therapeutic qualities.

Therapeutic toads?

John Burey, an entrepreneur in the northern state of Queensland, believes there is significant demand in China for exports of live toads - both for meat and their healing properties.

"The Chinese have been using cane toads with their skins... in traditional medicines for many, many years now. I thought there was a possibly an opportunity there to try and turn a pest into something that might be profitable," he said.

Mr Burey is due to travel to Beijing next month for talks with prospective clients.

Various quarantine and licensing formalities will have to be sorted out with both Australian and Chinese authorities before exports can begin.

Cane toad venom is present throughout its body and is produced as a milky liquid from large swollen glands located over its shoulders.

It can kill dogs and cats, as well as freshwater crocodiles and large snakes.

It can also cause temporary blindness and excruciating pain in people if the poison gets into the eyes or mouth.

These warty creatures are native to the Americas. They were brought to Queensland in the 1930s in an unsuccessful attempt to eradicate beetles that were destroying sugar cane plantations.

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