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Possum-Killing Poison Helps Protect New Zealand Parrot

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birds, conservationAn endangered New Zealand parrot known as the kaka (Nestor meridionalis) has had a much-needed population boost after poisons were used to kill introduced possums, stoats and rodents in Waitutu Forest

Common brush-tailed possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) were introduced to New Zealand from Australia in 1870 for their fur and meat, but they overran the islands, threatening the country’s native fauna, which evolved without any mammalian predators. A survey six years ago indicated that so many female kaka were being killed by possums that the birds were at risk of extinction in Waitutu Forest.

To help the parrots, last October the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) dropped cereal pellets laced with a poison known as 1080 over 25,000 hectares of the forest. The results were dramatic. According to the DOC, possum populations within the area have dropped 99.5 percent. Populations of stoats and other rodents, also introduced species, dropped to a level so low, the animals could not be detected “with standard monitoring methods,” the DOC reports.

The birds, meanwhile, are thriving in the absence of these predators. The DOC asserts that female kakas have nests full of healthy chicks, making this a record breeding season.

The DOC monitored the area before and after the 1080 drop and found that no birds were killed by the poison. Water samples also showed no signs of the biodegradable poison.

The use of the 1080 toxin has been highly controversial. Also known as sodium fluoroacetate, 1080 is derived from tea and is deadly to most mammals. It has been effective in New Zealand because there are no native mammals for it to kill, but some fear it is too indiscriminate and may pose an eventual danger to humans.

Kakas face threats from several other introduced species, including deer, pigs and wasps. The wasps eat shimmering honeydew, which is a primary source of the birds’ diet, providing necessary energy for their breeding periods.

Photo by Matt Binns via Flickr under Creative Commons license





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  1. 1. brianwoodwardnz@gmail.com 8:35 am 06/12/2011

    That is an amazing statistic (99.5%). With numbers like that the need to control the Possum population via standard and more laborious methods won’t be needed. As an NZ resident I think it is a shame the natural demand for the fur, of which the little pest was originally introduced for (http://www.nzpossummerino.com/) will never be enough to eradicate the Possum from New Zealands natural forests without the need for such drastic measures – the littering or our pristine forests with such a deadly killer.

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  2. 2. brianwoodwardnz@gmail.com 8:40 am 06/12/2011

    That is an amazing statistic (99.5%). With numbers like that the need to control the Possum population via standard and more laborious methods won’t be needed. As an NZ resident I think it is a shame the natural demand for the fur, of which the little pest was originally introduced for (<a href="http://www.nzpossummerino.com/">NZ Possum Merino</a>) will never be enough to eradicate the Possum from New Zealands natural forests without the need for such drastic measures – the littering or our pristine forests with such a deadly killer.

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  3. 3. Thomasthom 6:02 am 06/20/2011

    "The use of the 1080 toxin has been highly controversial" — True
    "Also known as sodium fluoroacetate" — True
    "1080 is derived from tea" — Completely False, It is manufactured in Oxford Alabama by Tull Chemicals Ltd.
    "and is deadly to most mammals" — also deadly to all oxygen breathing organisms, including you.
    "It has been effective in New Zealand because there are no native mammals for it to kill" — False, NZ has several species of bats, and a large part of the controversy is because of the unacceptable by-kill of native birds, dogs, sheep, cows, horses, insects, pigs, deer … etc.
    "but some fear it is too indiscriminate and may pose an eventual danger to humans" True, It interrupts the kreb cycle in all oxygen breathing organisms, depriving the cell of the energy to live, the cell dies.
    Dead animals remain toxic for many months depending on conditions, leading to ongoing secondary poisoning.
    World Health Organisation class 6.1a (Toxic substances which are liable to cause death or serious injury to human health if inhaled, swallowed. or by skin absorption)
    There is no antidote.
    From Chemical Book
    Risk Statements 26/27/28-50 :
    ( 26/27/28: Very Toxic by inhalation, in contact with skin and if swallowed )
    ( 50: Very Toxic to aquatic organisms )
    Safety Statements 13-22-36/37-45-61
    13: Keep away from food, drink and animal feeding stuffs
    22: Do not breathe dust
    36/37: Wear suitable protective clothing and gloves
    45: In case of accident or if you feel unwell, seek medical advice immediately (show label where possible)
    61: Avoid release to the environment. Refer to special instructions safety data sheet

    Dropping 2500 Kg (90% of world production) every year for the last 60 years is hardly "avoiding release to the environment.

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