Ridding paradise of pests the aim

SHARE

A few weeks ago, Prime Minister John Key made a forthright environmental announcement when he declared his Government has pledged to cull all introduced species that threaten our native birds by 2050.
The Government will award $28 million to a company that will implement his plans, which will also have to attract substantial contributions from big business, philanthropists, and benevolent organisations.
The news has generally been favourably accepted by most environmental organisations and political parties — the Greens, Labour, Act and the Maori parties, as well as groups such as Forest and Bird and a few with strings attached like ethical treatment of animals, e.g. Peta and Save Animals From Exploitation, who are like the vegans and don’t believe in killing animals but according to them there are ways of controlling pest populations by contraceptives and immunesuppressants.
Targeted are the big three pests scientists estimate kill 25 million native birds a year. The guilty are the common brush-tailed possum, the mustelids (ferrets, stoats and weasels) and the rat.
The possum was introduced to NZ in 1837 to establish a fur trade and has become one of the greatest threats to our natural environment. Being omnivores, they browse native vegetation, compete with native birds and prey on birds’ eggs and chicks. In 1977, it was discovered the possum was a vector of bovine tuberculosis — later the ferret and weasel were also found to be vectors. The Animal Health Board began a campaign to reduce their numbers: 1700 herds were affected by Tb and the possum population was estimated at 70,000,000. Biodegradable 1080 poison can take a lot of the credit for reducing their numbers to about 30,000,000. Only 46 cattle and deer herds are infected with Tb. The possum fur industry earns about $110 million to $150 million dollars a year and employs 1500 people. Carcasses are exported to Hong Kong, Taiwan and Malaysia for human consumption.
Ferrets, stoats and weasels were imported from Europe in the 1880s to control rabbits, instead they played havoc among the many ground-nesting birds, including the kiwi. They are nocturnal and, like the possum, have acclimatised extremely well.
Tradition has it that the kiore native rat came from Polynesia in the canoe Horouta when the Great Fleet arrived in 1350. They are not very prevalent and survive in isolated areas. The best-known rat species are the black ship rat and the brown Norway rat. They often live near humans and carry disease such as leptospirosis, toxoplasmosis and campylobacter.
It will take many multiples of $28 million to eradicate these pests.
There is opposition from groups like the anti-1080 lobby and it still has to be passed through Parliament.
NZ First MP Richard Prosser argues most politicians haven’t been to the bush to see the magnitude of what’s entailed and our pests, birds and lizards have coexisted alongside each other for 150 years. Not everyone is yearning for paradise lost!