How do you stop an animal from eating a poisonous toad? By feeding it sausages!

Conservationists in Australia are serving up nauseating sausages to a population of northern quolls, in a novel attempt to educate the endangered marsupials about the perils of eating cane toads.

Northern quolls (Dasyurus hallucatus) are small, spotted, carnivorous marsupials native to Australia, which are in danger of being wiped out due, amongst other factors, to their fondness for cane toads—an invasive species, which exudes a deadly toxin when eaten.

Cane toads (Rhinella marina) were introduced to Australia in the 1930s as a means of controlling pest beetles in Queensland’s sugarcane crops. However, the creatures have since spread throughout much of the northern part of the country where they have had a devastating impact on many indigenous predators, including quolls, goannas, some snakes and freshwater crocodiles.

The toxic toads are currently on a course for the Mornington-Marion Downs Wildlife Sanctuary in Kimberley, Western Australia, which is home to an important population of northern quolls.

To reduce the damage, ecologists from the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) have embarked on an unusual conservation programme, which aims to train quolls to avoid cane toads ahead of the anticipated arrival of the amphibians next year. The project involves feeding quolls with sausages made from minced cane toad meat minus the toxins but laced with a nausea-inducing chemical. The sausages won’t kill the quolls, but they should make them queasy, which with any luck will teach them to associate the taste of cane toad with the feeling of sickness.

Once the sausages have been prepared they will be distributed from helicopters into the nature reserve. The researchers will then use camera traps to monitor what effects the toad-aversion bait has on quoll behaviour and population levels.

‘Our land management programmes are already protecting quolls from wildfire and feral cats. We hope that with this programme we can stave off the new threat presented by cane toads,’ AWC Senior Wildlife Ecologist Katherine Tuft told Love Nature.