JOHANNESBURG — They say cats have nine lives. Now a Chinese toad has joined that club of wily survivors.
South Africans are marveling at the endurance of a toad that got trapped in a cargo shipment from China to Cape Town after jumping into a porcelain candlestick that was made there. South African officials reportedly planned to put down the creature, fearing it would cause harm as an invasive species if it were let go in the wild.
But the toad got a last-minute reprieve. Mango Airlines, a South African airline, transported the toad on Friday to Johannesburg for delivery to an animal sanctuary after officials decided to find a way to let the globe-trotting toad live. The two-hour flight was a breeze compared to the trip from China, an odyssey of many weeks and thousands of kilometers (miles) across the Indian Ocean.
Airline spokesman Hein Kaiser said the toad got "first-class treatment," sitting in the cockpit in a transparent plastic container with escort Brett Glasby, an animal welfare inspector. There was even a mock ceremony in which the toad's boarding pass was handed to Glasby.
"He was the star of the show on the flight," Kaiser said of the amphibious passenger. "I think every passenger stopped to have a look."
On landing in Johannesburg, the toad, dubbed Jack B Nimble, was brought out of his container for a celebrity-style photo call.
Observers said the mottled brown toad seemed like a cool customer. "Pretty chilled," as Kaiser put it.
It belongs to the Asian Gold Toad species, which breeds during monsoon season. It is believed to have survived the trip from China by hardening its skin to prevent it drying out and also slowing its breathing and heart rate, methods that help the species survive in times of drought.
"We've had snakes in the imported timber, scorpions in fruit. We were called because it was right inside the candlestick and we had to break it to get it out," Glasby, the inspector, told The Star, a South African newspaper. "It was manufactured in China and the box was not opened between China and the store here, so we can deduce it has come all the way from China."
A startled customer at a store spotted a toad leg sticking out of the candle holder, according to the Cape Town region's animal protection agency, the SPCA.
Conservationists fed the toad worms and crickets after its rescue. By all accounts, the toad ate like a horse.
Its new home is the Montecasino entertainment complex in Johannesburg. The toad will be in quarantine for a couple of weeks and is slated for display next month.
The toad's adventures got rave reviews on the SPCA's Facebook site.
"What a special Christmas story!!" one posting said. Said another: "Most famous Toad in the world."