Tag Archives: dr jo pollard

DoC’s own data reveals each poisoning operation kills on average 12% of NZ’s native kea – “a tragedy easily avoided” – Dr Jo Pollard

Dr Jo Pollard, BSc (Hons), PhD

Posted by Carol Sawyer

(Published in the Greymouth Star, 10 March, 2020)

In 1979 scientist Eric Spurr warned that wide scale poisoning of New Zealand with compound 1080, intended to kill introduced mammals, was actually killing kea and many other animals. It took decades before NZ’s Department of Conservation (DoC) finally began to monitor kea deaths from 1080 poisoning.

Now, using DoC’s own data, we can estimate that each poisoning operation will kill an average 12% of kea.

During the most horrific example DoC managed to kill 78% of the tracked kea population (7 of 9 kea monitored at North Okarito). Last month, in the Matukituki Valley, 50% of DoC’s monitored kea died after a 1080 drop.

Disturbingly, two myths have again been rolled out in an attempt to soothe public anger over the destruction of these now rare, iconic birds.

Myth 1. Kea are only likely to eat baits if people have conditioned them through providing food previously. DoC’s own research shows that this is not true. 9% of monitored kea (2/22) died at Kahurangi, a site chosen by DoC precisely because of its remoteness.

The fallacy of this claim is clear to anyone with experience of kea. They are curious to examine and pull anything new apart – as motorists will often attest after even the briefest of encounters with these inquisitive creatures. Scientists consider that this trait is likely an adaptation to living in a harsh environment, where food can be very hard to find, especially in winter (when 50% or more of kea juveniles are likely to die of starvation). Before the advent of DoC, helicopters and a toxin designed to kill everything from microbes to mammals, a willingness to try a new food source undoubtedly played a key role in the birds’ survival.

Myth 2. Kea nests need protection from stoats and 1080 poison provides that protection. Two studies have shown that the presence of stoats does not bother kea (in 1969, then again in 1999). Even if stoats were a problem for kea, 1080 would not fix the situation, quite the reverse. Scientists found that stoats became more likely to eat birds after 1080 drops. Why? Because rats, a primary source of food for the stoats, have been almost wiped out.

Mice do not usually eat 1080 baits so, in the absence of hungry rats, their numbers boom in the aftermath of a 1080 drop – a fact easily established by a review of the literature. Rat numbers, usually low immediately after 1080 operations, rebound strongly within months – often peaking at figures far higher than were present pre-drop. The population booms of mice and rats that are caused by 1080 drops are never highlighted by DoC, although they are easily seen in many studies. Those booms are likely to fuel stoat plagues as a new generation of mustelids arrives to find a larder overflowing with rodents.

Journalist Dave Hansford last year made the dubious claim that because of the “benefit” of 1080 to kea breeding, up to 22% of kea could die before there would be a net loss (Spinoff, August 2019). A 50% death rate would surely be tragic then, even to a journalist with an extreme pro-1080 bias!

Nature lovers should be very concerned because the monitoring of kea throughout 1080 drops is unique. No other native species: microbe, plant, insect or bird has been given even a tiny fraction of the attention or resources that have been used to monitor kea. 1080 is broad spectrum, highly toxic, spreads rapidly, travels up food chains, binds to cellulose and has extreme, unexpected effects. What is happening to everything else that lives in our forests, wetlands, grasslands and mountain tarns?

1080 poison may have a dual function for DoC. Not only does it attract an enormous amount of government funding, its use may help divert concern away from other ways in which vital habitat is being lost through poor management and financial interests. Examples are DoC’s approving high quotas for tourist helicopter flights (80 per day were planned for the remote Darran mountains) and the continued mining of conservation land (despite government promises to curb it).

The public needs to wake up to the fact there is no “science” behind DoC’s aerial poisoning. Mast-driven rodent plagues, often used to justify aerial poisoning, have been around since the time of the kiore. They are part of a general, short term increase in productivity including bird breeding. Effects are not something DoC needs to try to control with aerial poison, it should follow the evidence and stop blindly interfering in a process that it is simply not equipped to control.

Healthy populations of native birds, such as mohua and kakariki, lived in many places around the South Island until DoC started “helping” them by interfering with nests and trapping out the main rat predator (stoats). Rat numbers escalated, bird numbers plummeted, then broad spectrum 1080 poison was applied.

DoC’s science-less management shows a complete lack of respect for NZ’s ecological heritage and the legal mandate it holds to conserve it. Kea, much loved and admired, seem destined for the same fate as other species that have suffered from DoC’s “helping hand”. DoC needs to leave them and everything else alone, now.

For references and more information visit www.1080science.co.nz

Photo: Pixabay.com

With a long history of poisoning Kea, DoC is set to finish off what remains – Dr Jo Pollard

DoC SET TO POISON OFF REMAINING KEA

by Dr Jo Pollard (BSc (Hons, PhD))

Posted to Facebook by Carol Sawyer

“The species is now on the brink of extinction” Dr Jo Pollard

“The New Zealand Government’s Department of Conservation (DoC) is embarking on its largest aerial poisoning programme ever this year and endangered kea (Nestor notabilis), NZ’s mountain parrot, are almost certain to die.

DoC has a very long history of poisoning kea. Aerial poisoning with food baits laced with sodium monofluoroacetate (“1080”) was found to be killing kea more than 50 years ago and the species is now on the brink of extinction. Although the government has made no attempt to formally assess numbers, some estimates in 1986 and 1992 were already as low as 1000 birds. There may be very few kea left. Complete absences are being reported in areas of human activity (tramping huts, ski fields, car parks) where they have traditionally gathered.

In DoC studies over the last decade, an average of 12% of marked kea have been reported dead immediately after aerial 1080 poisoning, with a range up to 78%. Now that DoC are embarking on even more intensive, more extensive 1080 poisoning, there seems to be little hope for the species’ survival in the wild.

How is it that a government department charged with conserving species can cause this carnage?

New Zealand’s conservation management has reached a critically low point where science and ecology have been abandoned in favour of feverish poisoning of “pest” species. Tellingly, DoC recently described itself as a “pest control agency”.

According to DoC, it is pests that are endangering kea, therefore the outcome of poisoning will be beneficial. There are serious flaws with this idea.

Firstly, aerial baiting with 1080 poison is very poor at controlling pests, including mice, rats and stoats. Mouse numbers rise almost immediately afterwards; it is thought mice may be able to detect the toxin in food baits and that they flourish because competing species are poisoned off. Rat numbers are usually (not always) low immediately after poisoning, but they breed and re-invade rapidly and within months are typically far more numerous than before, often reaching plague levels. Stoats are sometimes killed, sometimes not (they have to eat poisoned prey to die, because they do not eat the cereal baits), but survivors and invaders can flourish post-poisoning as numbers of their main prey species, rats and mice, escalate. Surviving stoats are also known to turn to eating native birds after poisoning, when rat numbers have suddenly plummeted.

DoC’s answer to this problem is to now increase the frequency and intensity of poisoning. It is planning to spread double the number of baits, then if there are surviving rats, repeat the double-sowing. However that strategy does not help with the problem of non-acceptance of poisoned baits by mice. Whether rat and stoat numbers will be better controlled is unknown. In previous DoC operations, and in other pest populations (flies, laboratory rats and rabbits) repeated 1080 poisoning has become increasingly less effective because pests have developed behavioural and/or genetic resistance. One thing is for sure- kea and other rare native species will be severely at risk.

Secondly, there is no scientific evidence that mammalian pests are the main cause of the kea’s demise as is being claimed by DoC. Its own studies and ornithological studies had previously concluded (in the 1960s, 1990s and last decade) that although living in the company of stoats, kea were “relatively immune” to predation.

In the last few years DoC has made an intensive effort to prove that stoats are a major predator of kea. The evidence that its much-vaunted, very expensive 1080 poisoning programmes are killing kea has been very inconvenient and it has done its best to create the illusion that 1080 actually helps kea.

But DoC’s recent documents show only spurious, indefensible figures based on “seed rain” and contortions of historic data. Hundreds of hours of camera surveillance inside and outside kea nests have produced very little evidence of predation: at the Kea Konvention in April this year we were repeatedly shown a photograph of a stoat that was “about to get” a nesting kea, and a video that failed to run. Even if DoC’s surveillance had shown lots of predation, nest monitoring in itself is known to attract predators and cause adults to abandon chicks so such “evidence” would be hopelessly biased.

So kea are set to disappear, and DoC is set to blame pests, rather than 1080 poisoning, for their demise. The public will be none the wiser unless they are interested and motivated enough to question DoC’s propaganda.

The plight of kea should cause alarm for anyone concerned about the fate of New Zealand’s ecological heritage. Not only birds, but all air-breathing organisms including bacteria, fungi, plants and invertebrates are affected by 1080 (it interferes with the Krebs cycle used in respiration).

The toxin has a marked ability to spread: in cereal dust and fragments created during aerial spreading, in poisoned animals, baits carried by animals, urine, faeces, carcasses and water. On DoC’s own admission, reliable data on poisoning death rates exist only for six endemic birds. Of those, two (fern birds Megalurus punctatus and kea) have been found to be poisoned in large numbers. What is happening to the rest of New Zealand’s endemic species?

For the scientific basis of this article and more information on kea please see http://1080science.co.nz/scientific-reviews-of-1080/

Dr Jo Pollard (BSc (Hons), PhD) is an independent scientist, with particular interests in animal welfare, NZ’s ecology, and scientific integrity.