Whacking Day

Article excerpt

In a 1993 episode of The Simpsons, the town of Springfield celebrates Whacking Day, an annual holiday in which residents hunt down snakes and beat them to death with sticks and clubs. Everyone has a great time until Bart, Lisa and singer Barry White team up to teach the town the error of its ways. They eventually put a stop to the festivities, allowing all the snakes to presumably live happily ever after.

But in a case of life imitating art, the fictional Whacking Day has inspired more than one real-life counterpart. Every March since 2009, for example, communities in North Queensland, Australia, take part in "Toad Day Out." During the event, cane toads are rounded up and killed, and prizes are awarded to those who catch the largest toad and the most toads by combined weight. This may seem odd to non-residents, but cane toads are an invasive pest in Australia that destroy natural habitats, spread diseases like salmonella and kill native wildlife with a toxin they secrete onto their skin.

Ironically, these poisonous toads were introduced into the country in 1935 in order to control the cane beetle population that had been decimating sugar cane crops. Unfortunately the toad proved to be ineffective as a beetle hunter and instead became just as big of a problem in its own right. A toad population that started out at 3,000 now numbers more than 200 million. So every year, Toad Day Out participants capture some 10,000 toads, which are humanely put to death using carbon dioxide gas in an effort to control their population.

Another real-life Whacking Day, which was actually more of a Whacking Month, took place this past January in Florida when the state's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission sponsored the 2013 Python Challenge. For years, Burmese pythons have threatened the delicate Everglades ecosystem in South Florida. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that it has spent more than $6 million since 2005 on efforts to control the problem. As part of the Python Challenge, more than 1,500 people signed up to hunt and kill these snakes and vie for prizes of up to $1,500. Unlike in The Simpsons, however, clubs were not the weapon of choice. Burmese pythons can grow to longer than 20 feet, so experts say the quickest, most humane way to kill them is by a bullet or bolt to the brain. …


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