Word’s getting around isn’t it? Remember this one? One of the great aspects of social media & the internet. All being severely curtailed however as we speak.
Almost on the verge of losing its native species New Zealand is beginning to realize the environmental implications of 60 years of indiscriminate aerial application of toxic pesticides and chemicals like 1080 (sodium fluoroacetate) in its forest ecosystem. Secondary poisoning due to rat poison is posing a big threat for the birds of prey and insectivores. Though no one wanted it that way, birds are being poisoned when the insects eat the poisonous rat bait and the birds then eat the insects.
For such a small country, New Zealand packs a poisonous punch. Its Department of Conservation (DoC) has a toolbox full of chemical weapons and is willing and able to use them. Last year alone saw aerial broadcasting of 800+ tonnes of toxic bait across an estimated 700,000 HAs of its native forest ecosystems (including lakes and rivers) in a campaign against rats dubbed the Battle for the Birds. The poison used was 1080 (sodium fluoroacetate), which kills by interrupting cellular respiration and affects all life forms requiring oxygen. The extreme toxicity and agonizing mode of action has sparked much controversy about the inhumanity of using such a poison. There is also no known antidote and in the opinion of many 1080 should have been banned outright years ago. In New Zealand, it has been used for over 60 years to control introduced species such as rabbits, possums and rats.
Poisons are a booming business, especially for the “treatment” of rats on islands. In this instance, the poison is brodifacoum a second-generation anticoagulant used for island eradications. The method of aerial application is like “blitzkrieg”, but lack of accuracy and by kill risk means that these operations can impact, as is often witnessed, on sea mammals, fish and birds.
Brodifacoum is also persistent and bioaccumulative.
The New Zealand state-owned enterprise, Animal Control Products imports as much as 90% of the world’s supply of pure manufactured 1080 annually from the United State’s Tull Chemical Company (the sole manufacturer). This is then processed into various baits. But New Zealand’s pest control industry is not all about spreading bait from helicopters or ground-based operations in its own ecosystem, it is also about export opportunities. Animal Control Products has found a niche market for selling New Zealand expertise and products for pest control solutions and island restorations. It is a lucrative sideline for this government. New Zealand provides the skill to kill, marketing its expertise and branding, and proudly presiding over island eradications.
But does the world need such a thing as island eradications and ecosystem restorations? And if we are to believe the world does need such drastic measures, the question needs to asked. Are poisons really working? The respected science journal, Nature, reported in 2012 that “Killing rats is killing birds”. Canada and the United States are planning to restrict the use of blood-thinning rat poisons, such as brodifacoum.
The disastrous eradication of Alaska’s Rat Island used 42 tonnes of brodifacoum. This resulted in the demise of 420 birds including 46 bald eagles that tragically came to dine on rat. One would hope that the island eradication industry would think twice about using poisons that have far reaching environmental implications. Rats will go wherever we go. But still, aerial poisoning of islands is heralded as the “final solution” to the problem of rats. This way of looking at island conservation as a poisoning opportunity was born in New Zealand.