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July 30, 2018 | by  | in Environment |
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In Our Environment

Talking ‘bout 1080.
Legend has it that when Māori first arrived on the shores of Aotearoa, the birdsong was deafening. A tempest of booms, whistles, chirrups, and hoots erupted from the wild, impenetrable bush. Now, on a walk through the bush, listen closely. Hear a peep, a rustle, and the echo of silence.
The silence in our native forests is a result of the teeth and claws that settlers brought to our shores. Brushtail possums were introduced and bred by colonists in 1837 to spur a fur trade. Now, possums steal and slurp up birds’ eggs. They devour trees with such ferocity that they can strip a rātā to its skeleton in a night. Stoats, originally brought into to control rabbits, will patrol kiwi nests waiting for chicks to hatch. Hordes of rats hunt down frogs, geckos, and insects.
This gang of predators is responsible for the extinction of more than 50 of our bird species as well as three frogs, a bat, a freshwater fish, at least three lizards, and an unknown number of insects.
Our nation dreams of Predator Free NZ 2050. 1080, used in NZ since the 50s, is at the forefront of achieving this dream.
What is 1080? Weirdly, it’s a kind of salt; sodium monofluoroacetate. The active ingredient is produced naturally in some plants, including tea leaf. There’s a lot of mythology wrapped up in the poison green pellets.
Opponents cry out that 1080 poisons soil and waterways. 1080 does contaminate water, but the effects are ephemeral. The poison breaks down into non toxic by-products very quickly. Landcare Research has tested 2098 water samples following 1080 drops. Only three per cent contained traces of 1080 and all were well below the Ministry of Health drinking water standard. Fish and freshwater invertebrates swim freely as the toxin has no effect on them. Because 1080 does not bioaccumulate, it does not persist in soil.

Other objectors claim that 1080 annihilates everything. Its true that early forms of 1080 did kill smaller birds, like tomtits. But DOC responded accordingly and dyed the pellets to put off birds.

Studies between 1998 and 2002 found that, of the birds monitored, none died from 1080. What 1080 kills is mammals, which makes it particularly suitable for NZ where our only native mammal is a bat. Unfortunately, dogs are particularly sensitive to the poison. Multiple pups have died from eating a poisoned carcass. 1080 also kills deer and pigs, which explains the widespread bristling from hunters — some of who rely on such creatures for food and income. In terms of human death related to 1080, the average person would have to gobble more than seven pellets for it to be fatal.
While some concerns are dismissed by hard science, other concerns fall beyond the constraints and judgement of science and fact.

It’s difficult to reconcile poison scattered from the sky with tikanga and kaitiakitanga. The very idea of poisoning Papatūānuku is abominable. There is also an issue of personal ethics and animal welfare, as 1080 is a tortuous toxin. Eye witness accounts of a poisoned possum report screeches of pain and seizures so violent they propelled the creature into the air.
The fact remains: 1080 does work. Take Nelson Lakes National Park. Prior to the 1080 drop, just 12 percent of kiwi chicks survived to independence. The next season, 56 per cent survived, having been given a chance to procreate in peace.
Failure to use 1080 is a failure to make right the mistakes of our past. It is a failure to our future, where our unique taonga may no longer exist. We must improve practice and control, and strive for ethical developments like adding painkillers to bait. The government must consult and listen to those who feel a special connection with the bush and creatures within it. 1080 or no 1080; birdsong or silence.

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