ICS Seminar - 20 April 2023

The Craft of Poisoning: Learning not to eat Cane Toads

Presenter: Thom van Dooren

Discussant: Gay Hawkins

Chair: Denis Byrne


Since their introduction in 1935, cane toads have been making their way across the top half of the Australian continent. As they’ve moved, they have left a wave of death in their wake, animals poisoned by the unfamiliar toxins these toads carry. All efforts to eradicate toads, or even slow their advance, have failed. In recent years, however, a new set of approaches to coexistence with cane toads have begun to emerge. These approaches centre on large scale efforts to teach native species not to eat toads through a ‘conditioned taste aversion’ that is produced with the use of nauseating toxins. This presentation explores the history and ethics of these multispecies pedagogical experiments. It asks how the various toxic substances that are deployed by both toads and scientists open up new possibilities for learning, for becoming differently together, for reshaping ecosystems and shared lives, while also carrying with them significant, and often mortal, dangers.


Thom van Dooren, FAHA, is Deputy Director at the Sydney Environment Institute and an Associate Professor in the School of Humanities at the University of Sydney. His research and writing focus on some of the many philosophical, ethical, cultural, and political issues that arise in the context of species extinctions and human entanglements with threatened species and places. He is the author of Flight Ways: Life and Loss at the Edge of Extinction (Columbia UP 2014), The Wake of Crows: Living and Dying in Shared Worlds (Columbia UP 2019), and A World in a Shell: Snail Stories for a Time of Extinctions (MIT 2022). www.thomvandooren.org (opens in a new window)

Event Details

Date & Time: Thursday, 20 April 2023, 11:30 am – 1:00 pm

Venue: EB.3.38, Parramatta South Campus