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Toxic Toads Threaten 'Ecological Disaster'
Madagascar's unique wildlife is facing an "ecological disaster" from an invasion of toxic toads that could devastate the island's native species.
It is thought the Asian common toads (Duttaphrynus melanostictus) arrived on the African island in shipping containers from their native home in Southeast Asia.
A relative of the poisonous amphibian, the cane toad, has decimated wildlife in Australia and now numbers in the millions there after it was introduced to control pests.
Approximately 95% of Madagascar's reptiles and 92% of its mammals exist nowhere else on Earth, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
In a letter to Nature magazine, 11 researchers warned that Asian common toads were spotted near Toamasina, Madagascar's largest seaport.
The females can lay 40,000 eggs a month and it is feared they will take advantage of the "ideal resources and climate" to establish themselves.
Jonathan Kolby, a wildlife health researcher at James Cook University in Australia, and his colleagues wrote: "Time is short, so we are issuing an urgent call to the conservation community and governments to prevent an ecological disaster."
He told Nature that iconic Madagascan species such as the cat-like fossa, lemurs and endemic birds could be threatened, because they are likely to eat the venomous toads.
More than 50 species of endemic snake - including the ground boa - are also in jeopardy.
The toads could also contaminate drinking water and transmit parasites to humans.
The potential catastrophe is not just restricted to Madagascar, said Mr Kolby.
"There is now a high dispersal risk of these toads spreading from Madagascar to other Indian Ocean islands such as the Mascarene Islands, Comoros and Seychelles," he said.
The 11 co-signatories of the letter are calling for an urgent hunting programme to wipe out the toads before they take hold - including draining ponds to stop their breeding.