POISONING THE TOURISTS
By Carol Sawyer 23 February 2017
We did a great job of poisoning the tourists yesterday. The NZ Department of Conservation and HeliOtago are to be commended! ( Don’t get upset – I am being ironic)
At Makarora, Mt Aspiring National Park, an area of unsurpassed beauty on the eastern side of the Southern Alps, yesterday, 23 February, 2017, HeliOtago dropped 76 tonnes of one of the world’s deadliest poisons, Compound 1080, in a DoC “Battle for Our Birds” operation. 1080 has no antidote.
The Blue Pools Walk is a short walk accessed from the main highway, State Highway 6, and is extraordinarily popular with tourists who want a break and a cool bush-walk after driving over the Haast Pass from South Westland. They also often want a swim on a hot day, and I am told tour-bus drivers encourage them to swim and to jump off the bridge at the Blue Pools. Link: https://www.lakewanaka.co.nz/explore/blue-pools-track
The loadout zone at Cameron Flat is seven minutes up the road from the little village of Makarora.
“Yesterday morning the river directly above the Blue Pools was poisoned, along with the rest of the area – Makarora, Wilkin, Young, Blue Valleys, and all the streams that flow into the Makarora River and also end up in Lake Wanaka.”
By 10.00 am two security officers had cleared the track to the Blue Pools. One had no gloves on, so she just kicked the baits to the side of the track. The other had gloves so he picked them up and tossed them into the undergrowth. It wasn’t much of an effort. One tourist told me he had seen two baits on the track and another showed me film of baits at the side of the track.
“1080 is a broad-spectrum poison: it kills all oxygen-breathing animals and organisms. This alone is reason enough to cease dispersing it into the environment. It indiscriminately kills and contaminates everything from the insects that underpin the native fauna food chain to precious native birds, dogs and farm animals.”
Dr Meriel Watts
A Makarora local, who was on the track at the time they were dropping the 1080 poison yesterday morning, told me the helicopter that went over his head zig-zagged above the Blue Pools, dropping 1080 poison, and the baits went into the water directly above the Blue Pools. The chopper also went along the edge of the Makarora River, along the bushline, dropping 1080 baits so they were flung out into the Makarora River too. None of the streams had designated buffer zones and so they were poisoned directly, BUT the Wilkin, Young and Makarora Rivers were supposed to have buffer zones. Therefore at least one, the designated bait-free zone around the Makarora River, was poisoned, even if unintentionally.
I spent most of yesterday afternoon at the entrance to the Blue Pools track. So did Shane Wilson and his father Ron. There was a constant stream of tourists. As they went in and as they came out we asked them if they knew about 1080 poison, and when the inevitable “No” was the reply, we handed them an explanatory ( and completely factual, and non-emotive ) flier, and then answered their many questions.
They were stunned – seriously ! There were no signs saying the poison had been dropped that morning. They didn’t understand that it was an aerial drop. They didn’t know what all the helicopters were doing.( There were seven helicopters swinging buckets and it sounded at times like I imagine the Vietnam War must have sounded ). They asked me : Is there a fire ? Are they mining ? Are they building something in the forest ?
One man, in appalled disbelief, came up to me and asked if he could show me film he had taken of a helicopter ” so close to people !” He had a young child on his shoulders. The helicopter was a speck on a ridge and THAT shocked him ? Those choppers had been swinging out so much closer to people than he had witnessed !
One young Swedish man was extremely distressed. He had swum in the water and was very upset when he found out about the poison. I said “Look you will be fine. You swam in it. You didn’t drink it”. Then he said he had been drinking it !
So had his girlfriend – from the Czech Republic.
I spoke to Indians, Brazilians, French, Germans, Scandinavians, Czechs, Danes, Dutch, most of whom understood English, or at least one of their number did and translated for the others, English, Americans, Australians, Canadians. ( Not, however, the Chinese. Malaysians, etc – I tried to talk to them but most didn’t speak English and went away as happily oblivious to poison as when they arrived !)
It was quite a business explaining why the government was dropping 1080 poison and why it was totally unnecessary but – when you tell people we drop 90% of the world’s supply and that it is killing EVERYTHING, not just the species they want to eradicate, and that stoats are not interested in 1080 baits ( when speaking to tourists ‘weasel’ seems to be an understood word, but ‘stoats’ not – so if you say ‘an animal like a weasel’, they mostly understand ), and that it is banned in many parts of the world, and that it is poisoning our land and we can no longer eat our wild food and that we have been dropping it for over 60 years and that we have had rats for 700 years and stoats for 150 and, and, and…..
Shane Wilson‘s ‘1080 drum’ with a roadkill possum doe that he came across en route, on top – beautiful fur, freshly killed, and undamaged – a drawcard for curious tourists. I couldn’t stop stroking her. She was all warm in the sun. She had a lucky escape ! She wouldn’t have known a thing, not like the poor possies dying in Makarora in agony right now ! Photo: Carol Sawyer
Shane Wilson’s Dad, Ron ( they had driven four hours from Otautau to be there, setting off at 1.30 am ), and Ray Thompson, ( who had driven for three hours from from Whataroa ). Some anti-1080 people show total passion and dedication. Photo: Carol Sawyer
What surprised me was the intense interest. I was watchful for glazed-over eyes and polite departures but no… the questions poured in and so many people said ” What can we do to help ?!!” An Englishman, who sounded a bit like Prince Charles, was looking at the loadout zone and he said to me ” I hate this sort of thing ! ”
When I was asked how they could help, I said to people: “Take photos of those helicopters. Explain to your friends on social media. Write letters to major NZ newspapers, stating your shock and upset and disbelief at seeing what is happening in a land you regarded as clean and green and 100% pure. Don’t write to the NZ government – the letter will end up in the bin. A letter to a newspaper, from an international visitor”, I said, “is worth more than 100 letters from New Zealanders”
So many said ” But we thought you were clean, green… “
I told them about the film “Poisoning Paradise”. I told them to look it up on Google. I said it had won four international film festival awards and it has not been allowed to be shown on National TV in NZ.
I told them to go to the websites and Facebook pages on the flier I gave them.
I know some of them will – they were truly SHOCKED !
What is the matter with you, Maggie Barry and the Dept of Conservation? How dare you drop 1080 poison in our rivers and not tell tourists NOT to drink the water – only one hour later !!!!!!! NO signs, NO staff, NO care !
“Animal Control Products” ( recently given the more obscure name “Orillion” ), the NZ state-owned factory, has a 1080 warning label which states ” Avoid pollution of any water supply with pellets” and states that the pellets are harmful to aquatic organisms.
PHOTOS by Carol Sawyer & Peter Hartley