Monday, December 19, 2011

An open letter to Sir Paul Callaghan

By Bill Benfield - 
Dear Professor Sir Paul Callaghan.
I was quite amazed to see your "sanctuary vision" in the Dominion Post of 9/12/11 which claims the provision of sanctuaries could avert disaster to our native wildlife. It seems an unusual approach to take, but then, someone with your obvious abilities and with the academic resources available to you, would have at least have had a look around the subject, boned up a bit on the science, and what was happening in the field and what information there was. Still, I was surprised. that you went and leaped in on this one. 

Naturally you would have studied the origins of our fauna and flora, of how the forests co-evolved with giant browsing birds which are now extinct. I suspect you would have caught ecologist Graeme Caughley’s papers where he argues that excluder fences or exclosures, such as you are proposing, which deny any browse, even exotic browse, means that the forest, and in effect the ecosystem, becomes "un-natural". 

I’m sure that when you proposed further aerial poisoning with 1080 for areas outside the sanctuaries, you would have been aware that this poison was originally registered as an insecticide. Your investigations would have shown that studies revealing the disturbing impact of massive 1080 drops on forest floor invertebrates were suppressed within the Department of Conservation.  As a scientist, you must be aware that insects are the base of all forest ecosystems, the creatures that break down forest litter to make forest soils, the base of the food chain for many birds including both kiwi and fantails. When insects are being poisoned on a short cycle, such as in the Tararua Ranges for "Project Kaka" you will soon have a silent forest. No cicadas, no flies, no crickets, and soon no birds! Nothing to do with "pests".

No doubt your investigations revealed that many of the larger birds, such as kea and kaka, are being directly poisoned by aerial 1080 operations such as you propose. Recent kea poisonings include 41% of a radio tagged population in 2008 at Franz, and in September of this year, nearly 80% of a population at North Okarito. Kea are now extinct on much of their former range. Although DoC may claim the culprits are stoats and possum, I don’t think it needs much science to see that there is another very significant factor, ie. poisoning, that is being ignored.

I take it you also read the papers by Ruscoe and others concerning rat plagues which follow a year or so after 1080 operations. This is in part because rats breed so much faster than our native birds, so while everything is knocked back by the poisoning, fast breeding rats are able to recover and occupy the niches of others, and the balance is tipped into the rat's favour to the detriment of the birds. Contrary to claims by DoC and others, stoats food preferences mean that they are often little affected by 1080 operations.

If you were able to get on an Official Information Act request, the minutes of the clandestine steering committee consisting of DoC, Animal Health Board (AHB) and Animal Control Products (ACP, the state owned poisons producer) set up to ensure the successful renewal of consents by ERMA to use aerial 1080, you will find some interesting reading. Amongst the snippets is the information that DoC had been using artificially low costings for aerial 1080 (similar to the figures given by Gerry McSweeny of Forest & Bird on National Radio of 8/6/11). Reading this material, and the statement of corporate intent of the state owned enterprise, ACP, you will probably come to the conclusion that something more is afoot. Here the example of Enron provides an interesting parallel. A large energy conglomerate that is still regarded as a benchmark for corporate malfeasance deliberately created crisis’s to exert leverage on regulators and gain pecuniary advantage. In the case of Enron, they created threats to the electricity supply by deliberately reducing generating capacity during periods of peak usage. The real difference here is that in New Zealand, it is both the state and leading conservation groups that are rogue. 

Starting with DoC, they have an association with the Nga Manu Trust, near Levin. This seems to be an open air photo studio where, in contrived settings, vegetarian possum are induced to be photographed attacking fledgling birds. The photos are then widely used in publicity material making possum out to be a threat to our endangered bird life, and hence, along with a lot of similar material, a false crisis in conservation. So too you will find with the Royal NZ Forest & Bird Protection Society, whose advocate, Nicola Vallence , in an effort to talk up a crisis of a possum plague, claims that marsupial possum are different in New Zealand because, although they can still carry only one joey, "they have more babies here". 

The AHB, by means of poorly policed stock movement controls and ineffective testing regimes, maintains both a created crisis and a body of bovine Tb in the environment to ensure their continued existence. All of these groups make a bogeyman of possum and other "pest" threats to create a sense of crisis which they harvest for leverage and pecuniary advantage in much the same way as did Enron. You’d think that in a normal world, a free press would pick up on this, but when it comes to things like DoC’s and the other players advocacy budgets, media managers will sit mum to avoid de-railing a state sponsored gravy train that they all benefit from. National Radio is just as bad.

No doubt you also had the opportunity to check out many of the bio-diversity restoration and "kiwi recovery" type programmes. These are great vehicles for seeking bequests, engaging corporate sponsors and other such fund raising, but did you get a chance to check out the overall impact on the native species involved? One of them, which has Hubbards breakfast foods as a corporate sponsor, is the Kea Conservation Trust. It is claimed that this trust helped prepare the poison baits which lifted the kea kill rate from 41% of a population in 2008 to nearly 80% this year. Good to know that, while eating your muesli, you are at the same time contributing to the extinction of kea in the wild. 

Your researches will have no doubt led to DoC "rarebits" where that you may have found the kiwi recovery programmes can have an equally catastrophic effect. Kiwi are interesting, in that they are the only ratite to survive the human invasion of this country. Left to themselves, they have both adaptation and enough nous to get on with their lives, despite that fact, they have become caught up in the conservation "crisis". The usual way it effects kiwi is by having their eggs taken before time for their chick to be hatched and raised to a few months in a hatchery before being returned to the wild, encumbered with a harness carrying a tracking device. They soon fall prey to some predator, possibly cats; and the howl will go up that there is a "pest problem"! 

To a kiwi hatched in its parent's burrow, there will be the adult mentoring, social bonding and protection by the older birds. Chicks of some, like the Okarito brown or rowi kiwi, can spend up to two years or more with the parent birds and siblings, and by the time they are ready to leave the nest, they are well equipped with all the skills to face their world. Compare that to the hatchery chick! Turkeys may be a good analogy - a bird which in the wild is known for its skill and wary ability to evade predators, yet farm reared birds are, well, just "turkeys". Same too for hatchery reared kiwi; if they don’t die of starvation tangled by their tracker harness in the undergrowth, they will soon succumb to something in what is to them a strange and hostile world.

Is the course of conservation you seek really an over - managed and poisoned conservation estate, where a few "iconic" species are protected from life in the wild, often encumbered with tracking devices to the point where they are no longer viable outside the expensive sanctuaries such as you suggest? Because the land outside the sactuaries will have been so carpet bombed with deadly poison as you advocate, will we only be left with token populations that would face sure death outside the wire? There is an alternative., It will require some courage and it is outlined in my book"The Third Wave – Poisoning the Land" published by Tross Publishing of Wellington. It should be read by all with an interest in our land, its forests and its creatures. 


Bill Benfield. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

No more 1080 poison for Lake Taupo Forest?

A group of concerned Maori led by Dave Livingston and Australian lawyer and Maori law expert Michael Sharp, have come one step closer to ending aerial 1080 poisoning in the Lake Taupo Forest.

Dave Livingston stated that demonstrating that there was an alternative to aerial poisoning, was the catalyst. After the trial in which trapping was used, Livingston stated "we proved ground control will work. A 2000 hectare trial found only one live possum after monitoring was completed. The AHB was happy and have now given another block above Tokaanu, as a second trial, thanks to Brent Webster".

At the local AGM meeting, land owners unanimously voted against using 1080 poison in future. Great work, team!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Government Guilty of "Reckless" 1080 Deaths

By NORMAN JONES - Peninsula Press.

The government and its agencies can now be prosecuted and fined up to $350,000 for the suffering and death of animals exposed to 1080 poison...

New legislation to the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) policy earlier this year made it an offense to kill through the ‘reckless’ use of 1080.

And with a  Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) statement saying that one agency - the Department of Conservation (DOC) - are effectively ‘drift netting’ forests "... causing uncounted deaths of both indigenous and introduced species," legislation has to be put into place to stop this widespread 'illegal' suffering of animals.

Speaking this week, Robyn Kippenberger, National Chief Executive, Royal New Zealand SPCA said “Whilst there is no provision in the AWA 1999 to take action on the poisoning of a ‘pest animal’ ... amendments to the legislation in July of this year provide for the reckless ill-treatment of any animal.  

"Should an operator be reckless in the application of 1080 (i.e. outside of the designated boundary) and a domestic or production animal suffers unnecessary pain and suffering as a result, the SPCA would consider prosecuting under *Section 28A of the AWA 1991.

She said the the SPCA, although recognising the need for possum control, urgently urged the government to seek more human alternatives.

“While it is proven that cyanide is a considerably more humane poison to control possums, the SPCA acknowledges that its application in deeply forested areas is not practical.

“The SPCA is totally opposed to the use of 1080 in the control of wild deer as death in this species has been shown to be agonizing and protracted with significant suffering. It is of deep concern that the Department of Conservation are using this method to control deer numbers as 1080 is not licensed as a poison to control this species.”

She added that, “As 1080 is not species specific, the SPCA is extremely concerned by the ‘by-kill’ resulting from the application of 1080.  It is effectively ‘drift netting' of the forest causing uncounted deaths of both indigenous and introduced species.

“Irrespective of all arguments on both sides of the 1080 debate, scientific evidence proves that most affected animals will die an agonising and likely prolonged death.”

To watch a documentary on the use of 1080 poison in New Zealand, please click here

[Animal Welfare Act:*Section - 28A -  Reckless ill-treatment of animals: (1) A person commits an offence if that person recklessly ill-treats an animal with the result that: (a) the animal is permanently disabled; or (b) the animal dies; or (c) the pain or distress caused to the animal is so great that it is necessary to destroy the animal in order to end its suffering; or (d) the animal is seriously injured or impaired.

(2) For the purposes of subsection (1)(d), an animal is seriously injured or impaired if the injury or impairment: (a) involves - (i) prolonged pain and suffering; or (ii) a substantial risk of death; or (iii) loss of a body part; or (iv) permanent or prolonged loss of a bodily function; and (b) requires treatment by or under the supervision of a veterinarian. (3) A person who commits an offence against this section is liable on conviction on indictment - (a) in the case of an individual, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years or to a fine not exceeding $75,000 or to both:

(b) in the case of a body corporate, to a fine not exceeding $350,000.

Section 28A: inserted, on 7 July 2010, by section 5  HYPERLINK "" of the Animal Welfare Amendment Act 2010 (2010 No 93).

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Plea to International Conservationists Visiting Auckland this week.

By Scientist and researcher  Dr Jo Pollard (BSc (Hons), PhD, Zoology) and Graham Sperry (Chairman, NZ Wildlands Biodiversity Management Society Inc.)

This week the 25th annual meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology is being held in Auckland, with the theme “Engaging Society in Conservation”. Over 1300 delegates from around the globe are attending, and our Department of Conservation (DoC) is in the limelight. Not only is it being held up as a world leader in pest eradication and innovative conservation, it is attracting intense sympathy for its scientists who are to be victims of government cutbacks.

This morning on TV we were treated to an interview with conservation scientist Paul Beier, president of the Society. Dr Beier spoke of how New Zealand is considered a world leader in ecological crisis management and how he had visited an impressive offshore island here (Tiritiri Matangi) where pests had been eradicated and birds introduced. Dr Beier stated that introduced mammals were a threat to our indigenous species and their elimination was necessary to preserve biodiversity here, and that in his opinion the loss of “100 DoC scientists” would threaten this outcome.

However conference delegates should also be aware that DoC’s past and on-going heavy handedness with broad-spectrum toxins (brodifacoum and 1080, a respiratory inhibitor) and lack of scientific practice have received harsh criticism. A few brave scientists within government departments have called repeatedly for robust (or even adequate) monitoring of DoC activities, which have been firmly linked with plagues of pests and place native species at severe risk - those that are less capable of recovering from wholesale poisoning of the ecological community (species that are most sensitive to the toxins; or vulnerable to plagues of rats, mice and/or stoats; or rare; or slower than others to breed and disperse into vacant habitat).

The concerns of those scientists, and a handful of independent researchers, are available for scrutiny on the website To date the efforts of those opposing widespread toxin use have fallen on deaf ears. Indeed our own Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) this year advocated even more use of 1080 poison, especially in NZ’s remote areas. These places are no doubt host to a myriad of undiscovered species (given that only about 50, 000 of an estimated 80, 000 multicellular species in New Zealand have been formally described). A good hard look at the PCE’s justification for this revealed no substance whatsoever, in fact it highlighted the deficiencies in DoC’s methodology (the actions of its so-called scientists) and the ineffectiveness of 1080 in saving anything at all, not even the possum’s favourite trees. The Parliamentary Speaker of the House (paymaster of the PCE) has stated since that the PCE’s assessment was rated only as an opinion.

Other risky long-standing DoC practices include introducing new species to communities with the idea of saving the species (never mind the existing community structure, and the likelihood of introducing diseases) and removing eggs for hand-rearing with subsequent release of naive juveniles (high mortality rates occur during this process, wasting precious genetic resources and creating animal welfare issues). The lack of forethought and monitoring and amount of carnage wrought by DoC’s activities can be seen plainly in an investigation of their newsletters, available on the website

In line with the theme of this week’s conference, a paper to be presented by scientists Boedhihartono and Sayer contends that the most successful conservation efforts are those that involve local stakeholders, especially those fostering the aspirations of people in the poorer rural sectors. Here in New Zealand we have vast potential to use our introduced mammals as resources (commercially, recreationally and as a domestic food source). These opportunities are not sufficiently recognised or fostered here; poison is a favoured pest control tool not just for DoC but also our Animal Health Board (under the guise of controlling Tb) and Regional Councils.

Action from competent conservation biologists, of which there must be hundreds currently in Auckland, is urgently required to displace the unscientific, poorly monitored, rough interference and poisoning mentality that prevails here.


To view award winning documentary Poisoning Paradise - Ecocide New Zealand, click here.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Endangered Kea Killed by 1080 - a cartoonist's take

A few weeks ago 7 of 9 radio tagged kea were poisoned in a Department of Conservation (DoC) aerial 1080 poison drop across the North Okarito Kiwi Sanctuary, in South Westland. The drop was targeting rats, but when an attractive food is laced with poison and dropped from helicopters, there will always be unintended by-kill. This was the second time a large percentage of endangered, (estimated to be less than 1000 birds left on earth) radio-tagged kea have been killed in aerial poisoning operations. The overall number of birds killed in aerial operations is estimated to be extensive.

Cartoonist and NZ Fishing Paper editor Darly Crimp, has this take on the travesty ...

To watch the award wining documentary on 1080 poison use in New Zealand, please click on this link

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Endangered Takahe - in danger of secondary poisoning

Takahe - Photo - Denise Burdett
The takahe is one of New Zealand's most endangered birds. For years, authorities believed the birds were primarily herbivorous, but that changed when a group of school children, while on a class trip to Zealandia last week, filmed one of the birds eating a duckling.

This comes as quite a surprise, and given the amount of poison aerially dropped across New Zealand forests, it also comes as a concern. Poisons like 1080 cause secondary poisoning, and can kill not only the direct victim, but also the next feeder up the food chain.

Information supplied by Martin Foote reveals that a research paper conducted in 1959 states that ...
1) Takahe have been known to kill and eat chicks, rats (a target of poisoning campaigns) and guinea pigs.
2) Takahe have learned to eat introduced plants.
3) Takahe chicks are 100% protein eaters during the first stage of their lives.

There are 1000's of organisms living in New Zealand forests that are not yet formally described. How many other endangered species are there being exposed to poisonous food chains?
This takahe incident is another example of how irresponsible and potentially harmful the use of aerially applied 1080 poisonous food, dropped directly into forest ecosystems from aircraft, really is.

To view the video of the Takahe eating the duckling, click here.

To view a documentary on the use of 1080 poison in New Zealand, click here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dunne re-elected to parliament

The Hon Peter Dunne was re-elected into parliament on the weekend.
Mr Dunne is the longest, current serving member of parliament, with this term taking him over the 30 year threshold.

UnitedFuture is the only party in government to have the banning of 1080 poison included as one of it's policies.
Congratulations Peter Dunne, and we hope you will choose to continue to advocate for alternatives to the use of aerially spread 1080 poison.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Press Council rule in favour of newspaper's 1080 poison editorial

The following report is from the Peninsula Press, and developed after a complaint was made to the Press Council following a front page editorial on the use of 1080 poison ...  

Following a complaint to the NZ Press Council that this newspapers’ August 18th front page article ‘Where  are all the birds?’ had incited fear in the 1080 debate,  the council adjudicated in favour of the paper, stating:  “ ... newspapers are entitled to encourage debate on issues of interest and importance to their own community – indeed they have a responsibility to undertake that role.”

 The complaint was made by Thomas Everth, Coromandel. We publish the adjudication in full:


Thomas Everth complained about an editorial published in the Peninsula Press (a Coromandel community newspaper) on August 18, 2011.

He cited those principles of the Press Council that refer to accuracy, fairness and balance and to maintaining a distinction between the reporting of facts and the passing of opinion.

His complaint is not upheld.


Headlined “Where are all the birds?” the piece took a highly critical stance against the use of 1080 poison in NZ forests.

In particular, it stressed the dangers of “sublethal contamination” where even if wildlife is not killed outright, the low-level contaminants may create longer term, harmful effects on animal and insect development and reproduction.

It dominated the front page and continued to feature strongly on page three.

The “editorial article” was published under a by line giving the editor’s name.

A footnote stated that it had been written as a “front page editorial” in an attempt “to get to the known ‘facts’ about the controversial pesticide programme” and said that the newspaper welcomed further debate.

The Complaint:

Mr Everth initially complained to the editor (and author of the piece) by telephone and then via a series of e-mails. He accused the editor of “inciting fear and fanning the flames of an already heated 1080 debate”.

In particular, he took issue with the notion that 1080 interfered with and disrupted the endocrine system of wildlife and instead stressed the need for predator control (via 1080) in NZ forests.

He sent the newspaper a scientific research paper which rebutted the allegations that 1080 was an endocrine disrupter.

He suggested that the newspaper owed readers an apology for the “lies and the exaggeration and the baseless scare-mongering”.

When the editor offered Mr Everth the opportunity to write an article opposing and counter-balancing the arguments raised in the editorial, he declined.

As any apology and/or retraction was not forthcoming, he made a formal complaint to the Press Council.

Here, he stressed that the piece was irresponsible, especially given the possibility of violence by anti-1080 activists in the local community

The complainant reiterated his various claims that the newspaper had published “outright lies and made up conjecture” and that the editor’s prevailing argument was a reversal of “the facts”.

The Newspaper’s Response

The editor readily accepted that 1080 poisoning was a contentious issue but he had tried to foster healthy discussion, and when Mr Everth complained, he had offered him considerable space for a counter argument, a 1,000 word reply.

He suggested that the complainant’s vigorous reaction to the editorial exemplified the intense feeling (on both sides) inherent in the 1080 debate.

He denied that the editorial was written to support the pig-hunting lobby which was opposed to the use of 1080 poison.

He added that his original offer to Mr Everth, of space in the newspaper to air his “facts”, remained open.

Discussion and Decision:

In summary, the complainant argues that the editorial was not based on sound science and thus misled its readers, and further, that its publication was irresponsible, given the entrenched positions held in the local community.

The Press Council acknowledges the research forwarded by Mr Everth but the Council cannot adjudicate on the accuracy of competing claims surrounding the use of 1080 poison. Each “side” attacks the science and research cited by the opposition.

In 2009, the Council noted “Readers wanting to investigate the veracity of the claims and counter-claims about 1080 would be wise to read widely on the issue rather than rely on the content of one article”.

As far as the second part of his argument is concerned, the Press Council takes a different view and stresses that newspapers are entitled to encourage debate on issues of interest and importance to their own community – indeed they have a responsibility to undertake that role.

The Council is of the view that more could have been done to stress that this front page piece was in fact an editorial and thus opinion right from the outset,   though it noted it was termed “editorial” both within the text and at the end.

However, the editor’s claim that he was trying to stimulate discussion about an important local issue was supported by a footnote which clearly signalled that further comment would be welcomed.

Another signpost that the debate would continue was given – readers were told that a Ministry of Agriculture response to the editorial would be published later. That response duly appeared, in the newspaper’s Comment and Opinion page, the following week.

The complainant was given the chance to compose a response countering the editor’s opinions, and at some length, but he declined.

Finally, the Press Council has often upheld the right of an editor to adopt a strong stance and advocate a particular position; in short, to advance their own point of view.

Inevitably, some will disagree with that stance, even be offended by the opinions expressed or by how they were expressed, but that is an inherent aspect of freedom of speech.

Of course, there would be grounds for complaint if the editorial contained grievous errors of fact, or deliberately misled or misinformed readers. But, as noted above, the Council is simply unable to determine the “facts” in this ongoing debate, and it can see no evidence at all of any deliberate or wilful attempt to mislead or misinform.

The complaint is not upheld:

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, John Roughan, Lynn Scott and Stephen Stewart.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

1080 Poison Protestors Have Charges Dismissed

Photo - Katie Earnshaw
It is not unusual to have a police presence at 1080 poison drops in New Zealand. People have been voicing their concerns about the use of aerially applied 1080 poison for many years. Their concerns have been  mostly ignored. As a result, protesting has become a more regular occurrence.

On the 15th of June, 2010, 6 protestors - Daniel Hunt, Phillip Patterson, Fritz Felling, John Lewis, Amy C****, and Steven Hoy - were arrested and charged under the Biosecurity Act for obstructing a 1080 poison operation. Daniel Hunt was also charged under the Civil Aviation Act. Two others, photographer Katie Earnshaw, and Daniel Dick, were reportedly part of the protest group, but not charged.
On the day of the protests spokesperson for the group - Peter Salter - summed up the situation by stating "if arrested, they're being arrested for a good cause!"
Photo - Katie Earnshaw
On November 4, 2011, Judge P R Kellar ordered the charges against Daniel Hunt, John Lewis and Steven Hoy, be dismissed. The defendants were dismissed without conviction. 

Two other protestors arrested and charged at the same poison operation, have elected to be heard by jury. Their court case is still pending. Amy C**** was granted diversion.

This result by Judge Kellar is a significant victory for all those people who have stood up for an issue that is in need of urgent attention. 1080 poison is killing off New Zealand ecosystems (plenty of evidence included on this blog, alone), and putting endangered species at risk of extinction. Localised species extinction is already evident in some regions that have had intensive poisoning. 
Photo - Katie Earnshaw
The dust generated from the poison operations is known to travel at least 500 metres from drop-zone boundaries. 
   Poison signs are placed at all access points into national parks, tracks, road entrances, and camp grounds.
1080 poison is aerially distributed in 2 forms of food - cereal pellets and carrot pieces, and is attractive not only to the target species - rats and possums - but to many other forest dwelling wildlife.
Here, carrot pieces are being prepared for aerial distribution across the Kahurangi National Park.
1080 poison is a cruel killer. It kills not only native wildlife, but other forest animals as well. The poison is retained in the carcasses of its victims, and once eaten, can then kill the next feeder up the food-chain. 1080 poison is also an insecticide, often killing insectivorous birds after they've eaten insects that have consumed the poison. Pets, livestock and other non-target species are often victims. It is estimated by scientists that approximately 20,000 deer are killed in 1080 poison drops, every year!
 To watch a documentary on the use of 1080 poison in New Zealand, please click here. Poisoning Paradise

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Little Penguins Saved by Target Specific Eradication Project

A campaign to save Little Penguins on Philip Island is showing signs of success.

Foxes are the primary threat to the penguins and other small, native mammals.  The team in charge of the eradication project use a variety of methods to target the foxes - baiting, spotlighting, trapping and fumigating dens during fox-breeding season.

The eradication team have been working on the nature park for 5 years, and no penguins deaths have been reported in the last 2 years.

The following excerpt is from the story ...

The program recently received the Banksia Land and Biodiversity Award for its innovative methods of eradication, recognising the program's potential to inspire other efforts to battle introduced pests.

Stuart and his colleagues undertook baiting, spotlighting, trapping and fumigating dens during fox-breeding season, but their innovation was the trialling of a new drug to reduced the pest's ability to breed.

Called cabergoline, the drug is a remedy commonly used to treat Parkinson's disease in humans. It terminates pregnancies in female foxes but doesn't kill the fox itself. Stuart says it is used in areas where traditional 1080 - lethal poison used in baiting - may harm native wildlife too.

To view a documentary on 1080 poison use in New Zealand - Click Here

Thursday, November 17, 2011

65 Dogs Killed by 1080 Poison in a Single Year

In her report on the use of 1080 in New Zealand, released earlier this year, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) made an astounding claim by stating that only 8 dogs were known to have been poisoned by 1080 in the last 4 years.

The Comment caused outrage in rural communities, where it is difficult to find a person who doesn't know someone who has had a dog poisoned.

The following story was released yesterday by Dr Jo Pollard. At Least 65 dogs in a Year Poisoned by 1080 in New Zealand.

To watch the documentary about 1080 poison in New Zealand - Poisoning Paradise Click Here

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bureaucracy and Ignorance Putting Farming Sector at Risk

The following story appeared in the Waikato Times, today. It exemplifies the 1080 poison industry in New Zealand, and just goes to show that ignorance, and bureaucracy are driving its continued use in the New Zealand farming sector - at the expense of the environment.

Federated Farmers are, in general, a pro-1080 poison organisation, and choose to ignore the growing scientific evidence proving that the use of 1080 poison is not only harming New Zealand ecosystems and wildlife, but also  putting at risk - exports, tourism, and image. Click here to read the story Spare the 1080, destroy the habitat 

To watch a documentary highlighting 1080 poison use in New Zealand, click here Poisoning Paradise

Friday, November 11, 2011

Aerially Applied Poison found in Blue Cod

Brodifacoum rat poison has been detected in Blue Cod after an aerial poison operation was carried out across Ulva Island, in August, and a follow up drop in September.

The drop was targeting rats, but many birds, some endangered, are expected to have been killed. Monitoring is reportedly being carried out on endemic robin, saddleback, and weka.

30 blue cod were being monitored, and the poison has so far been detected in 2 of them. Brodifacoum is lethal to aquatic life, and extremely persistent.
After a similar drop last year across Rangitoto Island, off the shores of Auckland, many hundreds of native birds were killed. The poison was detected in penguins, and also suspected of killing fish-life, many dolphins, and a whale.

Ulva Island was declared rat-free in 1997, after successful trapping programs. However, rats were detected on the island again last year, so the Department of Conservation decided that an aerial operation was the best way to ensure the rats are eradicated again.

The operation has caused a lot of controversy, with many arguing that with a land area of around 600 acres, it could easily be managed with trapping and bait stations, like it was in 1997, and that the kill of native wildlife will be too great to warrant an aerial poisoning operation.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

New 1080 Science Website a Powerhouse of Research Talent

A group of scientists have joined together to present the facts and evidence of 1080 poison use in New Zealand.

The new website,, assembles the findings of the scientists, and other extensive research and facts.

Honest New Zealand politicians, researchers and leaders need no longer take bureaucrats advice, at face value. Fully referenced data and information is now presented in an easy to access way - and it's a damning accumulation of evidence.

To read full story, Click Here.

To view Poisoning Paradise - Click Here

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Disturbing new evidence - 1080 poison industry built on willful blindness

The truth about aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food    02/11/2011

By Dr Alexis Pietak (Dr Alexis Pietak is a biomedical research scientist, biophysicist, and author who lived in New Zealand from February 2005- May 2011. More information about Dr Pietak can be found at: 

Aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food is a hotly contested issue. Anti-1080 proponents claim that the widespread, uncontrolled distribution of highly lethal food into wilderness ecosystems has the capacity to decimate certain bird populations and wreak ecological havoc. Advocates claim that 1080-poisoned food is selective for mammals, and even if bird deaths do occur, the benefits of mammalian predator removal apparently outweigh the risk of bird deaths. According to advocates, aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food is the only way to protect New Zealand’s last stands of flora and fauna, and must be used to control bovine tuberculosis in New Zealand’s cattle and deer herds. Who is right? What is the truth about aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food?

Sticking to the facts

Science, when used correctly, represents humanity’s best tool for assessing issues from an objective, rather than emotional position. If we want to consider the 1080 debate from a scientific perspective, it’s first important to identify the main hypotheses that we’re looking for evidence to support. A hypothesis is a best guess at the actual nature of a situation given the information available. Focusing on the issue of New Zealand’s bird life, there are two hypotheses maintained by aerial 1080 advocates. The first is that aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food is selective to mammals like rats and possums, and therefore poses a minimal risk of killing birds. The second hypothesis is that even in situations where 1080-related bird deaths do occur, in the longer term a bird population benefits from enhanced survival and breeding with the extensive eradication of mammalian predators.

Fortunately, the issue of aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food readily lends itself to an objective assessment using scientifically-based considerations and experiments. Scientific researchers routinely design experiments, and use standard statistical analyses on the resulting observations, to obtain hard-data estimates of the risks/benefits to individuals of a population when they’re exposed to a factor like a virus, toxin, or lifestyle habit. While an ecosystem represents an arguably more complex, multifactorial, and difficult system to control, the risks/benefits of aerial poison operations to New Zealand’s birds can still be assessed using the very same methods wielded by medical researchers.

As a trained researcher who has looked into the scientific evidence intended to support the hypotheses of aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food advocates, I can tell you I’m afraid for what’s happened and what’s happening to New Zealand’s ecosystems. Much of the work that has been done, and the quality of data that exists to support the main claims of the aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food advocates, does not stand up to basic scrutiny. I’d like to share with the most important holes in the evidence base supporting aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food. In seeing how the evidence stacks up, or fails to stack up, you will hopefully be inspired to help put an immediate stop to aerial-dropped poisoned food in New Zealand.

Does 1080-poisoned food select for mammals?

Let’s start with an easy case. The 1080-poisoned food advocating agencies (DoC and AHB) have readily proclaimed 1080-poisoned food to be selective for mammals, therefore apparently making it safe for New Zealand’s birds. We know this from statements made directly by the DoC such as:

New Zealand is well placed to use 1080 because it specifically targets mammals — meaning we can target the predators and pests with limited impact on our native wildlife.”(1) 

Similarly, in response to the question of why New Zealand is the only country to use so much compound 1080, and in such uncontrolled manners, the DoC has responded:

Because New Zealand has no native terrestrial mammals except for two species of bat, we are well placed to use a toxin that targets mammals. Other countries which have native mammals that they want to protect use 1080 differently to New Zealand.”(1, 2)

On the other hand, different scientists have proclaimed 1080 to be acutely lethal to mammals and birds alike.(3). Is there any reasoning we could call upon to come to an objective decision about whether or not we should expect 1080-poisoned food to be selective for mammals? Well, yes, I think it’s easy to settle this issue objectively! The only rationale we need to agree on is that the selectivity of a poisoned food depends on how much of it a target animal would have to eat in comparison to something we don’t want to be killed. So, if a possum needed to eat 1% of its normal daily food intake in 1080-poisoned food, while a bird needed to eat 200% of its normal daily food intake, we could take this as an indication that the 1080-poisoned food is indeed selective for possums, and relatively harmless to the bird. To put it into human terms, the caffeine in coffee is toxic to humans, but only if we drink about 90 cups within a few hours. Since this would be very hard to do, we don’t consider coffee to be a lethal substance to humans. In fact, we consume it readily. Yet, if you gave your cat a quarter cup of coffee, he would likely up and die, without any antidote. By this line of reasoning, we’d say coffee is a toxin selective to cats and dogs, but not humans.

The lethal dose of 1080 for possums ranges from 0.8 to 1.5 mg/kg (4). The lethal dose of 1080 for New Zealand birds is indeed higher than that of possums, ranging from 6.9 to 9.5 mg/kg (5), and according to Canadian toxicologists may be as high as 15 mg/kg3. If we take into consideration the average body weights of possums, a small bird such as a tomtit, and a larger bird like a kea; the total daily mass of food consumed by each of these creatures (6); the lethal dose of 1080 for each creature considering both the normal (6.9 mg/kg) and high (15 mg/kg) ranges of 1080 tolerance for birds; and the concentration of compound 1080 used in cereal pellets and carrot bait (typically 1.5 g/kg), we can estimate the amount of 1080-poisoned food each creature needs to eat to reach a lethal dose in relation to its normal food intake.

The results don’t look so good for birds! Possums need only consume 0.4 % of their daily food ration in 1080-poisoned food, yet a smaller tomtit-sized bird with normal to high tolerance need only consume 0.6 to 1.2 % of its daily food intake to reach a lethal dose. A larger kea-sized bird would require only 6 to 12.5% of their daily food ration in 1080-poisoned food to reach a lethal dose. Clearly, 1080-poisoned food, as used in New Zealand’s aerial poison drops, has the capacity to easily kill both mammals and birds if it’s ingested in quantities that are small relative to the normal eating habits of these creatures.

Poisoned food advocates have also claimed that the addition of cinnamon scent and colouring the poisoned food green deter birds from ingesting the lethal pellets. However, studies examining bird preference to baits with and without cinnamon have not found evidence that birds are deterred by cinnamon (7). In a study of bird feeding on non-toxic cereal bait pellets tagged with fluorescent-dye, green baits were found to have been readily eaten by a number of bird species (8). Moreover, it’s been shown that an insect feeding on 1080 pellets can remain alive while accumulating enough 1080 toxin within itself to serve as a lethal dose to most insect eating (insectivorous) birds receiving as little as 6.4% of their daily insect ration (5), which makes the type of bait irrelevant.

So no, sadly, there are no reasons to believe food poisoned with 1080 is selective for mammals. Unintended deaths of a variety of bird species remain a distinct and deeply troubling possibility considering 2000-5000 kg of pure 1080, enough to kill a biomass of 14 to 35 million humans, is currently dumped into New Zealand’s ecosystems every year!

The quality of scientific evidence matters!

Next we need to consider the quality of scientific evidence that’s being used to support the hypothesis of low bird death risk with aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food. The academic community has previously determined that the only reliable way to assess bird deaths from aerial-dropped poisoned food is to capture birds, mark them with a coloured band or radio transmitter, release them, and look for them after the poisoned food drop (9-11). This is called a ‘mark-recapture’ method. Other methods, such as the 5 minute bird call and count techniques often mentioned in DoC’s reports, produce nonsensical data unless the whole bird population is wiped out after a poison drop. The reason for this is that using non-marked techniques, differences in bird behaviour cannot be separated from differences in bird abundance. The weather, presence of a human observer, and unknown bird behaviours are all factors causing daily sightings to go up or down independent of actual bird populations. In short, mark-recapture experiments are considered to be the only way to get a reliable assessment of bird death risk with aerial-dropped poisoned food exposure.

The DoC has in fact been performing mark-recapture experiments before and after aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food operations. A compilation of 23 years of these mark-recapture experiments, representing all 48 experiments assessing 13 unique bird species (4 of them kiwi) was made by DoC scientists Clare Veltman and Ian Westbrooke in a paper released earlier this year (12). I added in one more experiment concerning the fate of tagged Okarito kea (13), to bring the data set up to 49 experiments. The great thing about this compiled mark-recapture data set is it allows us to assess the quality of data collected in experiments over the years. The data represents the very best evidence available to indicate whether or not aerial dropped 1080-poisoned food kills birds.

Unfortunately, there are severe problems with the majority of these experiments. Keep in mind that these experiments intended to find out the actual proportion of a whole bird population that’s been killed by aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food from a pre-selected sample of a few individuals that were marked and observed. Now, if you wished to determine the fraction of the whole New Zealand population that supports 1080, and you asked two people what they thought, would you expect this give you a good assessment of the opinion of the remaining 4.4 million? No, probably not. You probably realize that to get some kind of realistic assessment, you’ll have to ask many more people to find out the actual proportion.

It’s the same thing for the number of birds that are surveyed in an aerial 1080 operation. Since we’re talking about capturing and marking live, wild, fragile birds, it’s clearly desirable to keep study numbers to a minimum. However, if the sample size of an experimental group becomes too small it becomes impossible to differentiate the effects of exposure to 1080-poisoned food from random chance. The serious danger of choosing sample sizes that are too small is the very real risk of assuming there is no effect of a 1080-poisoned food exposure when in reality there are significant deaths! Before the experiment begins, scientific researchers commonly use statistical methods to estimate the minimum number of individuals in each group required to detect specific death rates with statistical confidence (14,15). Unfortunately, DoC scientists have apparently not known this, sometimes only tagging 1 or 2 birds in an ‘experiment’ to try and find out the effects of 1080-poisoned food on a whole bird population!

The way to look at the quality of the existing experimental data is to calculate something called 95% confidence intervals on each measure of bird death in each experiment (16). I have plotted these up for you in Figure 1 for the 23 years of compiled mark-recapture data. These 95% confidence intervals tell us that many of these experiments have been completely bunk! Some experiments are unable to pinpoint the actual death rate within an interval spanning from nearly 0 to 100% (see Morepork E2 in Figure 1)! Of the 49 experiments, 18 out of 49 (or 37%) could not rule out a death rate of 50%, and 8 out of 49 (16%) could not rule out a death rate of 80%. This means that even in experiments where no deaths were observed, high death rates cannot be ruled out in the actual whole treated population.

Figure 1: The 95% confidence intervals for the death rate of 1080-poisoned food exposed birds in 49 mark-recapture experiments compiled over 25 years. A black dot represents the basic death rate for a particular experiment. The range of the 95% confidence interval for each death rate is shown as a red bar. With 95% chance, one can expect to find the actual death rate within the confidence interval. A very large 95% confidence interval indicates a poorly designed experiment with very small sample size. For very small sample size and very large 95% confidence interval (e.g. MOREPORK E2), the actual death rate may exist nearly anywhere between 0 and 100%, making the experiment completely ineffectual.
Another thing about the scientific evidence attempting to support the hypothesis of low bird deaths with aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food is the failure to study the majority of birds that can be identified at high risk from poisoning as they’ve previously been found dead after an aerial 1080 operation. Out of 31 bird species (19 New Zealand natives) that have been found dead after aerial-dropped poisoned food operations, only 8 have been studied! To put this into human terms, it’s as if there’s a dinner party where we suspect the roast beef is poisoned. Out of 100 guests that come to the party, 20 are strict vegetarians. After the party, we call up the 20 vegetarians to see how they’re doing. Is it a surprise to find out they’re all OK? Furthermore, we don’t pay attention to reports of deaths in the remaining 80 potentially roast-beef eating guests. As a result of this shoddy investigation, we conclude the roast beef is safe. Arguably, the DoC have studied and put forth the inconclusive data from individuals least likely to be poisoned in an aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food operation.

Evidence for high death rates

In my own calculations with the set of 23 years of compiled data, I pooled data from experiments for the same bird species using the same bait type (carrot or cereal pellet) to get some kind of statistically valid estimate of bird deaths in the 13 species studied by mark-recapture methods. The results of pooling according to bird and bait type showed that in the tomtit and robin groups exposed to 1080-poisoned carrot bait, the death rate for tomtits may be up to 96% and a death rate for robins up to 42%! In cereal pellet operations, a lower death rate of up to 18% was indicated for tomtits, while a similar death rate of up to 35% was found for robins. Notably, the tomtit and robin represent only 2 studied birds of 16 insectivorous bird species in New Zealand (17). Insectivores can be identified to be at risk of poisoning as they have been found dead after aerial 1080-poisoned food operations, and due to the risk of secondary poisoning through the insects they base their diets on5. The effects of aerial 1080 to the remaining 14 insectivorous bird species remain complete unknowns.

In addition to tomtits and robins, another bird species where significant 1080-related deaths were observed was the kea. The kea’s numbers on planet Earth stand as low as 1,000 to 5,000 (18, 19). My analysis of the compiled data set revealed a 1080-related death rate of up to 37% for kea in cereal pellet operations. The effects of carrot operations on kea have never been studied. A death rate as high as 37% would be extremely damaging for a slow to recover population species such as the kea, which already have such low populations. Moreover, the kea and weka were the only 2 omnivores studied of 21 omnivorous bird species in New Zealand17! Omnivores can easily be identified as high poisoning risk due to their innate tendency to ingest a wide variety of food types, and their observed deaths after aerial 1080-poisoned food operations. Again, what is happening to the remaining 19 omnivorous bird species in aerial-dropped poisoned food operations remains a mystery.

Long-term benefits of aerial 1080?

Next we can consider evidence supporting the hypothesis that benefits to birds outweigh the risks. In reality, an extremely low number of reports have explored long-term effects of aerial-dropped poisoned food to birds. The potential benefits of a 1080-poisoned food operation to a particular bird species are indicated by a decreased death risk to a 1080-poisoned food exposed population. To evaluate long-term benefits, an unexposed control group is essential, as well as longer-term follow ups of the tagged birds at 1 to 4 years after the 1080-poisoned food operation. The unexposed control group gives the death risk rate by natural factors, including predation. Therefore, by simply including a longer-term assessment of the very same experiment that had already been invested in, basic statistics (called relative risk ratios (20)) can be used to provide concrete evidence of the relative short-term risks, and some of the potential long-term benefits, of an aerial 1080-poisoned food operation to a particular bird species.

Unfortunately, in the 23 years of collected data a control group has rarely been used at all, with 36 of 49 experiments (or 74%) performed without a control! This is appalling scientific practice! Of those experiments that used controls, the vast majority of experiments followed-up tagged birds to only 3 weeks after the poison operation (12). The one report I located that followed up birds 25 months after the poison operation found no difference in the lifespan of birds in 1080-treated and untreated areas, indicating no survival benefit at all (21).

Increased breeding success with aerial 1080-poisoned food induced predator removal might benefit specific bird populations in the long term. However, I could find only 3 studies reporting on nesting success of 4 bird species after aerial 1080-poisoned food operations (21-23). Two of these 3 studies concluded with no significant differences in breeding success! For instance, in spite of a high death rate observed for tomtits in some aerial-1080 operations, the breeding success of tomtits in an aerial 1080 treated area was not significantly different from that of an untreated area (23). The breeding success of kaka was also not found to be significantly different with 1080 treatment (21). Only kereru and robins showed increased breeding success in one to two breeding seasons following 1080 treatment (21, 22). There is no information at all that looks at the longer term 3-4 year adult lifespan or breeding success of New Zealand’s birds with aerial dropped 1080-poisoned food. At best, there is only very minimal evidence regarding longer term benefits of an aerial 1080-poisoned food operation in terms of breeding success.

Long-term benefits are not actually expected with aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food due to the serious unanticipated side-effects that have been observed. A wilderness is a complex system of many interrelated living beings that depend upon, and compete with one another, for survival. Disrupting the balance of that system with the eradication of a pest species can result in serious and unexpected consequences (24). The outstanding breeding capacity of rats, and the complexities of ecosystem dynamics, means rat populations can recover from over 90% kill rates to levels as much as 5 times higher than before an aerial 1080-poison operation, and remain high for up to 6 years! (25) Increases in the number of stoats have also been observed in aerial 1080-treated areas (21). Another documented unexpected side effect of aerial 1080 operations was stoat prey switching from a diet consisting primarily (74%) of rats and minimal birds (3%) to one consisting heavily (39%) of birds after the 1080-poisoned food drop (26). Bird species recover much more slowly than their rodent predators (27). These unanticipated side-effects observed after aerial 1080 operations indicate increased predation and decreased breeding success for birds in the longer-term.

Aerial-dropped poisoned food: creating an ecosystem of ‘weeds’?

Aerial-dropped poisoned food is inherently different from other methods of pest control as it represents a single pulse of intense, short-duration predator control that is sporadically applied after 2 to 7 years. In ecological theory, the idea of ‘k’ and ‘r’ selected species has been kicking around for a while (28). An ‘r-selected’ species is quick to reproduce and makes many offspring, with the rat being a prime example. R-selected species are what we commonly call ‘weedy’ species.. On the other hand, ‘k-selected’ species are slower to reproduce and have fewer offspring, but live longer and are better able to compete for limited resources, with prime New Zealand examples being endemic birds like the kea. R-selected species dominate in unstable environments and can tolerate huge changes in their population. K-selected species require stable environments and have stable populations that do not tolerate large changes with environmental instability.

The very intense killing-pulse of aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food is likely creating a highly unstable environment that will select for quick to reproduce ‘r-selected’ species while decimating populations of slow-to-recover ‘k-selected’ species. Therefore, a fundamental change in the basic constitution of New Zealand’s aerial 1080-treated ecosystems, one which favours weedy species like rats and blackbirds, may be underway. This line of reasoning accounts for the sustained, abnormally high rat populations observed after aerial 1080-poisoned food drops (25).

A viable alternative to aerial-dropped poisoned food is continuous mammalian pest control using controlled-access bait stations and human hunting/trapping of target species (possums, rats, and stoats). These controlled, continuous methods of mammalian pest control have already been shown to be an effective means to recover populations of fragile bird species such as the kaka (29).

Over a period of about 30 years, unmanaged possums also change the constitution of a New Zealand forest by reducing the number of trees like fuchsia, rata, and kamahi, which are replaced by other species in correlation with possum population die-back (30). Aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food may be exerting an even more profound change in the constitution of New Zealand’s forests by selecting for the weediest mammal and bird species.


Since aerial 1080-poisoned food drops have been going on since 1956, with accelerated use from the 1990’s and through to this present day, we’d certainly hope that the best scientific evidence exists to support the main claims of 1080-advocates. By now it should be easy to take a look at this solid body of evidence and conclude that indeed, the evidence generally shows that aerial-dropped poisoned food is selective for mammals, poses minimal mortality risks to birds, and that long term benefits outweigh the risks. Unfortunately, this just isn’t the case.
There are no grounds to assume 1080-poisoned food is selective for mammals, with birds requiring only 0.6-12.5% of their daily food ration in 1080-poisoned bait to obtain a lethal dose.

Moreover, the existing hard data set compiling 23 years of experimental mark-recapture data examining the impacts of poisoned food operations to a variety of bird species was found to be deeply flawed due to i) the lack of a control group in the majority of experiments, ii) the use of very small study groups lacking statistical robustness, and iii) the very short duration of experiments.

Statistical analysis of the hard data set revealed significantly high death rates and risk of death for the two insectivorous birds studied (tomtit and robin) and one of the two omnivorous birds studied (kea), with large unknowns for the fate other insectivorous and omnivorous bird species in New Zealand.

Aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food cannot even be proven responsible for the observed drop in Tb infections in New Zealand’s herds, since more extensive aerial-dropped poison food operations were introduced at the same time as improved herd management techniques. Moreover, we cannot overlook the fact that major countries in North America and Europe have obtained a Tb-free status without resorting to killing off all of their native wildlife.

In conclusion, there is insubstantial hard data evidence to support the hypothesis of the mammalian selectivity of 1080-poisoned food, its low risk to a wide array of bird species, or to indicate long term benefits to any bird species. In contrast, there are indications that aerial 1080-operations may decimate certain endemic bird populations and fundamentally disrupt ecosystem dynamics, favouring weedy species like rats. As the risks of toxin persistence and secondary poisoning are higher for alternative toxins such as the anti-coagulants brodifacoum and pindone, an immediate moratorium on all aerial-dropped poisoned food operations is warranted.

Continuous, controlled bait access methods for mammalian predator control (bait stations and trapping) are recommended as viable alternatives to aerial-dropped poisoned food.

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The Truth about aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food by Alexis Mari Pietak is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. This means you are free to copy, distribute, and transmit this work as you wish. The work cannot be modified, used for commercial applications, and the author must be credited when it is used.