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HOW TOAD FRIENDLY IS YOUR GARDEN?
Western Leopard Toads are among the easiest frogs to maintain in your garden. In fact, almost any garden within 1 km of a breeding pond probably has at least one resident toad. The future of this species depends on toad-friendly gardens, as their natural habitat is almost totally converted to suburbia. Any garden fashion that is toad unfriendly could rapidly result in massive population reductions of this species.
First and foremost, the Western Leopard Toad may live in your garden, but every spring they need to be able to get to their breeding ponds. Then the toadlets need to be able to disperse to gardens.
Is your garden walled off from the outside world?
In our modern security-conscious world high solid walls are becoming the norm. These are major barriers for wildlife. For smaller animals, these can be made permeable by having “toad holes” at intervals along the wall. These also allow other animals to move around. Toad holes should be 50 mm wide and 30mm high. You should have at least one toad hole for every 20m of wall. Roof water pipelines can be counted as toad holes. A 30mm gap below gates is also perfect. The ideal for wildlife though is palisade fencing.
Is your pavement a death trap?
Toads need to move to their breeding ponds. However, some pavements prevent toads from crossing the roads: they are forced to walk along the road where they can be ridden over. Erect curbstones over 10cm high are barriers. Usually such curbstones can be crossed at driveways so are not really a problem. If your neighbourhood has deep gutters, get the municipality to install wildlife escape ramps at intervals of 100m in your street.
Don’t worry about normal storm water drains. Some wildlife do use these as shortcuts to wetlands. However, if these drains have permanent water in them, then they can function as lethal pitfall traps, even to toads and frogs. They are also breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other pests and need to be repaired. Alternatively, such drains either need a cover on them to stop animals falling in, or an animal ladder/ramp on the side to allow them to get out. Contact your nearest environmental officer if you know of any such drains. Sewerage drains must have gridded covers for the same reason.
Toads need shelter and food in your garden. Your garden probably has both of these, but you can improve your garden to wildlife by making it environmentally friendly.
How much of your garden is garden?
Paved or tarred areas, areas of stone chips, areas underlain with waterproof plastic and other solid surfaces do not count. Although these areas look neat and tidy and appeal to many people, they are double trouble. Firstly, they are sterile and prevent any wild animals (other than some invasive ants) or plants (other than annual weeds) from living there. Secondly, they do not allow rain water to soak into the soil – instead this water runs off into the storm water system, where it causes severe flooding of wetlands during rains and drying out of wetlands in the dry season. Why? Because the natural soil recharge where water soaks into the water table and then moves slowly underground to the wetlands in the dry season is destroyed: this water now is dumped immediately into the wetlands. Some cities are now taxing paved areas as equivalent to dwelling floor space for this reason.
We do need hard surfaces for driveways and paths, so what can we do? Well, keep the paving to the minimum width. Use grassovers (paving blocks that allow grass to grow through them) on driveways. Water from driveways can be drained into your garden and not into the stormwater drains. If your garden is big enough you can also lead your roofwater into your garden – but not within 2m of your walls or fences!
Lawns look great, but again they are not suitable for most wildlife (other than leatherjackets, earthworms, Eurasion Starlings and Hadedahs – none of which are indigenous to Cape Town). If you need lawns, keep them to the minimum area. Where possible mow them slightly higher than normal, so that smaller animals can hide in them. Also be very careful when you mow in December: look out for Toadlets, and if they are present, rather delay mowing for a week until they have dispersed.
Garden carefully as toads burrow
Open gaps in your wall
What sort of gardens do Western Leopard Toads prefer?
Although toads don’t care what type of garden you have, like other wildlife they have some important considerations.
* Edges: Walls and borders should have plants against them as cover. Lawns and pavings against walls are deathtraps for small animals when Fiscal Shrikes, crows, cats, dogs and other predators are around. A few shrubs against the wall are literally the difference between life and death, and also allow birds and lizards to feed in the open and easily dart for cover. Especially on your outside facing the street such borders allow many animals to live in the streets – animals as big as Thicknees are able to survive in cities when such borders exist.
* Compost Heaps: In our modern world, the environmentally friendly family will recycle kitchen waste in their compost heap. This compost can then be used to fertilize the garden. Both the compost heap itself and the composting will increase the health of your garden and the range of wildlife that is attracted to it. And your plants will benefit too.
* Woodpiles: In the modern world woodpiles are increasingly rare. But if you braai a lot, or like wood fires in winter, consider stacking your wood in a dry area over bare soil rather than on paving. Only a few pieces of wood will suffer, but the amount of animals that will use the area as a refuge and food source will be amazing. Alternatively, consider having a wood pile that is more permanent. Let it rot and become a home and food source for lots of indigenous animals. If done in the right way, rotting wood can look very attractive and provide a feature for a dark, unused corner of your garden.
* Rockeries: Dry stone walls, rockeries and other piles of stones also allow plenty of dark, moist hiding places for wildlife, and can be very attractive features in any garden.
* Ponds: Western Leopard Toads do not need ponds. If your garden is watered regularly, they will get all the water they need. If not they will go and find some water – and it is not unusual to find toads “drinking” by sitting in a pets water bowl. Don’t worry, the water will not be poisonous afterwards! See our toads and your pets page. Ensure that ponds (and swimming pools) have escape areas – no high lips all around! See our Install a toadsaver page. Do not take any toads you find to a pond: they do not like water – they are garden dwellers, not like most other frogs. They can swim, but long periods in water – and especially swimming pool chemicals - kills them
* Other wildlife: Gardens suitable for Western Leopard Toads often teem with other wildlife. Your garden should almost certainly also have Cape Skinks, Cape Dwarf Chameleon, Legless Skinks, Marble Leaf-toed Geckos, Cape Rain Frog (Blaasoppies), and if your are lucky Arum Lily Frogs and Slugeaters as well. You will probably also have the Golden Mole – please look after it: it is a rare beast and protected by law. Yes it accidentally kills freshy planted plants and makes lawns look untidy, but they are important for aeration of soil, eating underground grubs and earthworms, and providing safehavens for wildlife. (Don’t muddle them up with Molerats that will eat your plants from underground). Your garden almost certainly will also have Cape Whiteeyes, Cape Bulbuls, Double-collared Sunbirds, Olive Thrushes, Cape Robins, Fiscal Shrikes (Jannies), Prinias (Tinktinkies), doves and many other birds. A bird bath, bird feeding table, or nectar dispenser will help attract more birds. Your garden should also abound with Bees, Butterflies (especially the Christmas and small Blues), Beetles (Monkey Beetles, Scarab Beetles, Ladybirds, and composting and carrion feeders), Moths, Millipedes (both the stinkers and the pills), and others. If you are especially lucky you may find Rain Spiders and a huge variety of other goggas as well. Most of them are good for your garden, helping with composting and keeping down garden pests. The more wildlife-friendly your garden is the more joy and entertainment you will get out of it.
Create woodpiles for shelter
Install a toadsaver
Place dipping ponds to prevent toadlets from drying out
Create your own breeding ponds
What do Western Leopard Toads not like?
* Toads absorb moisture through their skin. They do not like chemicals which kill them: avoid algicides, fungicides and biocides in your swimming pool: they are not environmentally friendly – use them only when you really have to. Toads can also be killed by detergents from dishwashers, washing machines and laundry: drains with these should be covered. However, they will be happy with most bath and shower water: a pot plant over or next to such drains often is a good home for toads. Western Leopard Toads are not pond species: they live in gardens. Please do not move them to ponds – if they don’t drown they will just walk back.
* Toads also absorb poisons through their skin. So the spraying of herbicides and pesticides in your garden will kill them if they are directly sprayed. Unfortunately one does not notice them hiding in their hiding places, but the poisons do find them. A healthy garden will rely on natural animals to keep pests under control – so keep all poisons to a minimum. The less you use them, the less you will find that you need to use them. But if you use poisons, you will kill your biocontrols, and without these animals to eat possible pests, pests will become a serious and expensive problem. The Western Leopard Toad is probably your biggest and one of the more important pest control in the garden! And, like all the other wildlife controlling potential pests in your garden, it is free!
* Snail bait is also a poison, and does not only kill snails and slugs, but also birds, Glow Beatles (yes! Your “Glowworms” are beetles and eat snails!), Slugeaters and many other animals that naturally control your snails. Rather use a more natural method – beer traps for instance, are not a waste of good beer!
* Pesky pets. Most cats and dogs do not bother Western Leopard Toads. When scared toads secrete a foul-tasting poison that intelligent pets learn first time to leave alone. Thus in most gardens dogs, cats and toads coexist happily with mutual respect for each other. See our toads and your pets page if your pet accidentally bites a toad.
Some breeds though are not suitable for toads. The only real problem are some of the smaller terrier breeds. However, these are often indoor dogs, which will dig up your garden chasing every mole, lizard, bird and moving thing anyway. These dogs are usually instinctive killers and a few do not learn that toads, if threatened, can defend themselves with poison. In this case, you are best off keeping your dogs out of the garden. Watch out every summer as it is likely that at least some toads will enter your garden. But toads also don’t want to be killed and will quickly learn to avoid your dogs. But dog poisoning is very rare: on average less than one dog per year gets poisoned, compared to the hundreds of dogs that get ridden over each year.
Your garden contains all the food your toad could want. There is no need to provide any supplements or micronutrients for your toads: their natural food is all that they need.
What do toads do for your garden?
* Western Leopard Toads are voracious feeders of goggas. Snails, bugs, beetles, earthworms, caterpillars are all good food. They are one of the larger biocontrol and pest control animals in your garden and should be treated with the care they deserve. They perform this useful function for free!
* Western Leopard Toads are great garden pets. Leave them alone to find where they want to nest and feed. But there is no harm in taming them with titbits (mealworms or earthworms are scrumptious, and mince is a treat), and if you regularly feed your toad it will soon learn and be waiting for you at feeding time. But remember your toad is part of your garden ecosystem: it is supposed to be keeping your garden free of pests, not living off you.
During dry and cold periods they will stay in their nests (really just a scrape). Occasionally toads seem to want to move indoors, and some people are comfortable with this. It is better though if you encourage your toad to sleep outside: inside they seem to favour slippers and shoes as nests, with comic (and unforgettable) consequences.
Don’t forget to photograph your toad and upload the photo on UPLOAD YOUR TOAD website. That way if s/he is photographed at the breeding ponds, or during migration, we can track their movements and find out where your toad breeds.
There is no reason why your toad should not come back to your garden year after year. They have strong homing instincts and regularly return to their favourite spots after breeding. If you would like to do more for your Western Leopard Toad, then please see how you can help <link to how you can help page>
I don’t have Western Leopard Toads in my garden? Where can I get one?
Western Leopard Toads are an Endangered species. By law, you are not allowed to transport them or cage them. Nor are you allowed to sell them. This applies to the adults, toadlets and tadpoles. Why is this?
Western Leopard Toads exist as a series of gene pools linked to their breeding ponds. The different gene pools are all special and contain some genetic features not found in other populations. Moving toads around mixes up these gene pools and may result in populations becoming genetically unfit and dying out.
If your garden does not have its own Western Leopard Toad then it is for one of two reasons.
* Firstly, your garden may not be suitable. Any toads you put into your garden will then die of starvation. So it would be both cruel and unethical to do that. If you are within range of a breeding pond, then concentrate on making your garden environmentally friendly: when you succeed your toad will come hopping.
* Secondly, you may be too far away from a breeding pool. Every year the Western Leopard Toad trots down to its pond to ensure that a new generation of toads will populate our gardens. If your garden is too far away from these ponds, your toad will leave and never come back. It would also miss the breeding season by arriving too late. It would then go to a garden nearby the nearest breeding pond it can find, and for the next few years would contaminate the gene pool. We want to conserve our Western Leopard Toads, not wipe them out.
If I cannot have a Western Leopard Toads in my garden, what can I have?
The Western Leopard Toad is not the only frog in Cape Town. There are also the Cape Platanna, Cape Rain Frog, Micro Frog, Rose’s Mountain Toad and Cape Caco within the urban area of Cape Town. Some of these may occur in your garden. All of these are in the Red Data List and are also threatened with extinction to some degree. So you can help by keeping them alive in your garden. But, like the Western Leopard Toads, only if they occur there already. Do not move them around or swap them or bring in some other species. Otherwise you might mix up the gene pools, spread diseases and cause other problems.
Don’t even think about bringing in frogs from outside of Cape Town. Many of these species will hybridize and interbreed with our frogs and then they will almost certainly become extinct as a species! Already we have some alien frogs in Cape Town that are causing problems! Please do not make matters worse! Our frogs need your help.
But there is far more to an environmentally friendly garden that just frogs. You will still have all the other wildlife to enjoy, even if you are unfortunately enough not to have Western Leopard Toads.
Solar lights attract moths for toads