How Did the Toadlet Cross the Road?

One mu­si­cian’s 10-year cam­paign to save toads in­spired a song and brought his com­mu­nity to­gether

Canadian Wildlife - - LOCAL HERO - Text and pho­tos by Is­abelle Groc

Shortly af­ter he moved with his wife, Libby, to a small ru­ral com­mu­nity in the Cowichan Val­ley on Van­cou­ver Is­land in 1996, Kent Ball no­ticed small black dots mov­ing on the road near his house dur­ing the month of Au­gust. He soon re­al­ized they were ju­ve­nile western toads mi­grat­ing from the wet­land where they were born to the for­est where they live the rest of their lives.

The an­nual sum­mer mi­gra­tion was a dan­ger­ous jour­ney for the tiny toads, as they of­ten ended up be­ing squished by pass­ing cars. “I was driv­ing like most peo­ple do in our neigh­bour­hood,” Ball says now. “You stop and re­al­ize, ‘Oh th­ese are liv­ing things.’ They are no com­pe­ti­tion to a tire on a ve­hi­cle.”

Western toads (Anaxyrus boreas) are listed un­der the fed­eral Species at Risk Act as “of spe­cial con­cern”: re­ports say they are at risk be­cause of “habi­tat loss, degra­da­tion, and frag­men­ta­tion, in­clud­ing in­ter­sec­tion of sea­son­ally used habi­tats by roads.”

Ball, a 60-year-old ce­ment truck driver orig­i­nally from Moose Jaw, Sask., could not stand the car­nage and de­cided to step in to save those toadlets, no big­ger than a fin­ger­nail. “I have grand­chil­dren. And I would like to think that in their adult­hood, they too will be able to carry on pro­tect­ing na­ture and giv­ing it a hand.” He scooped up a few toadlets in an empty cof­fee cup and car­ried them across the road.

Ball was not go­ing to save all the toads with a cof­fee cup. The fol­low­ing sum­mer, af­ter do­ing some re­search and con­sult­ing with a lo­cal bi­ol­o­gist, he put up wooden stakes in the ground, sta­pled fences to them, and fun­nelled the toadlets into ice cream buck­ets so he could carry them across the road in large num­bers while he him­self dodged traf­fic. Ball con­vinced lo­cal hard­ware stores to do­nate sup­plies and ap­proached a sign-maker to help him make signs that would alert driv­ers to the pres­ence of toads on the road.

Sum­mer af­ter sum­mer, res­cu­ing toads dur­ing the week-long mi­gra­tion be­came Ball’s mis­sion. He would ar­rive at first light: “If there were a lot of toads com­ing, then I would phone in to work and take the day off and I would man the traps for the day, and then the next day, and then the next day, un­til ba­si­cally they had fin­ished com­ing across the road,” Ball re­calls.

“I HAVE GRAND­CHIL­DREN. AND I WOULD LIKE TO THINK THAT IN THEIR ADULT­HOOD, THEY TOO WILL BE ABLE TO CARRY ON PRO­TECT­ING NA­TURE AND GIV­ING IT A HAND.”

Ball es­ti­mates he res­cued 50,000 toads per year, half a mil­lion over 10 years. And each year, more peo­ple joined Ball in his ef­forts. “Even­tu­ally, peo­ple took no­tice of what I was do­ing and said, ‘Can we help you?’ They would get out of their cars, and ac­tu­ally come and help me. The neigh­bour­hood got be­hind me, so I was no longer the only per­son run­ning around sav­ing toads.”

In this ru­ral area where peo­ple did not know each other, sav­ing toads also al­lowed Ball to meet his neigh­bours and cre­ate a new sense of com­mu­nity. “It helped the whole com­mu­nity be­cause peo­ple were join­ing to­gether,” Ball says. “Na­ture can bring peo­ple to­gether when they are to­gether to help na­ture.”

Ball is also a pro­fes­sional mu­si­cian, and he says he was in­spired by the toads’ unique sense of rhythm. “Toads hop, and a lot of hop­ping also goes on when you are play­ing mu­sic.” He de­scribes hav­ing a dream of be­ing on the road and fear­ing for his life as traf­fic whizzed by. When he woke up, he had a tune in his head. “I imag­ined my­self as a toadlet sit­ting on the side of the road and try­ing to guess when the best time would be to hop across the road and get to the other side. I imag­ined that I bet­ter boo­gie and get across the road as quickly as pos­si­ble.”

The “Three-toad Boo­gie” was born. “I hope that it is go­ing to get peo­ple tap­ping their toes, and when they hear the song it is go­ing to make them think of the western toad’s plight, and maybe peo­ple will get to­gether and say, ‘Well, I am go­ing to stand up, and I am go­ing to help out.’”

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