New Zealand has launched an aggressive campaign to rid the country of invasive species – namely rats, opossums and stoats. The Department of Conservation (DOC) feels that these animals are bringing about environmental, cultural and economic damage to the country.
New Zealand, a bird watchers paradise, has 80% of their bird population in danger from predation. One of those birds is the famous ground dwelling Spotted Kiwi. Only 5% of Spotted Kiwis reach adulthood, because the eggs and babies are eaten by invasive predators.
This has caused a unique conflict between scientists. Some scientists feel that extreme measures are necessary to halt the predation and save New Zealand’s unique wildlife. Others are concerned that the methods are endangering the environment as a whole.
New Zealand, being a country of islands, has had a unique evolution of species. There are no native mammals other than bats and sea mammals such as Hector’s dolphins. Many of its native birds are flightless because they evolved without predation. These birds have no protection from predatory animals, such as the stoat, which can climb trees or ravage nests on the ground.
Concern for native species has prompted scientists to educate people on the problems of invasive species. Education programs include instruction on how to trap, poison and kill rats, stoats and possums. The DOC encourages monitoring to identify pest populations and decide what tactics will work best.
School children wearing kiwi shaped hats are often taken into the woods and taught to trap and catch predators in order to save the kiwi birds.
New Zealand is providing assistance to citizens who wish to participate in trapping and poisoning these “pests”. Citizens can borrow traps from their local library or form a neighborhood group which receives free supplies and training from the Department of Conservation.
One of the problems with this plan, according to ecologist Cam Speedy, is that the DOC is promoting the use of poisons. Many of these poisons are very toxic to a broad range of animals, not just the target species. Native species, such as the kiwi, often peck at the package and inadvertently ingest poison.
Brodifacoum, a broad spectrum rat poison, is used extensively by the DOC. In particular, it is harmful to cats and dogs who may eat animals that have ingested the poisons. There have been reports of family pets dying due to eating animals who have ingested the poison.
In addition, the DOC has dropped poison in scented packets throughout parks and mountainous regions. The poison it contains, sodium fluoroacetate, is highly toxic. Sodium fluoroacetate, otherwise known as 1080, causes death to numerous other species including the birds it means to protect. 1080 is so strong that one tablespoon has enough chemicals to kill one hundred people.
Opponents of the plan state that killing animals indiscriminately is bad for New Zealand’s image, as a country that has a $12 billion dollar tourist industry. Many persons who travel to New Zealand do so to enjoy the outdoors and experience hiking the pristine mountains and beaches.
Clyde Graf, the director of Poisoning Paradise: Ecocide New Zealand has filmed the government dropping 1080 on tourists who were given no warning of the intended chemical distribution.
“I think it’s time to call for a moratorium on the aerial spread of 1080,” said Kea Heritage Tours managing director Matt Lysaght who feels tourism is being negatively impacted on an international level.