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Toxic toads collected by hand in Taiwan to protect pets, wildlife and humans

While toads are considered good luck , the invasive cane toads secrete poison when threatened or squeezed.
Toads are a symbol of prosperity and good fortune in Taiwan, but the invasive species has officials and environmentalists scrambling to contain their spread.Sui Chou / AFP - Getty Images

Large, toxic and voracious cane toads are being collected by hand in Taiwan in a bid to protect pets, wild animals and even humans on the island. 

Volunteers from the Taiwan Amphibian Conservation Society worked by flashlight to gather toads late into Sunday night, and have collected up to 300, according to the group. 

“We hope to minimize the impact brought by the invasive species by collecting them to protect our own local species,” volunteer Guava Tsai told NBC News via Facebook on Monday.

A cane toad in Nantou County, Taiwan.Sam Yeh / AFP - Getty Images

Toads are considered good luck in the region, but the species, which measures up to 9 inches in length, is indigenous to South and Central America and has no natural predators on the island.

The toxin on cane toads can be fatal to humans if it gets into the eyes or mouth, according to the Australian government. The toad is also an invasive species in Australia, where eradication efforts have been ongoing for decades.

“It’s pretty awful stuff and a lot of dogs have been killed,” Rick Shine, a specialist in amphibians and reptiles at Macquarie University in Sydney, said of the toads' toxin. 

The Invasive Species Specialist Group has listed cane toads on its “100 Invasive Alien Species” world list, which is compiled by an international advisory body of scientists and experts.

Feng Chen, another volunteer from the Taiwan Amphibian Conservation Society, also warned of the animals’ toxicity.

“If cane toads spread throughout Taiwan, it will definitely be devastating to Taiwan’s ecosystem,” Chen said via a Facebook call.

The Council of Agriculture has warned that cane toads will secrete poison when they are threatened or squeezed, and that they are a threat to humans, cats, dogs and wild animals.

Still, just how dangerous and damaging the toads are has not been accepted by some on the island, where they still can sell for between 3,000 to 4,000 Taiwanese dollars ($108 to $144).

It was legal to own a cane toad as a pet until 2016 in Taiwan, where some see them as a sign of status and wealth.