Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hundreds of Endangered Birds Killed in Research

Are we too reckless when attaching tracking equipment to our native birds? Are we using our native species as expendable guinea pigs? It seems we are ...

The author of the book Kiwi Hunter, published in 2005, implies hundreds of our endemic kiwi are being killed due to poor methodology of researchers. His declaration is not an isolated occurrence.

There's plenty of evidence to show that radio-tagging birds is an invasive procedure that causes the birds stress and other physiological harm, and renders them less able to fend off predators. Some transmitters, after batteries run out, are left attached to birds, indefinitely.

Over 150 native birds are documented in Rare Bits (a DoC publication), as dying after being radio-tagged during research conducted between 2000 and 2004. In most cases there are no controls, so the results are merely observations, with no measurable comparisons. This assembly of information from Rare Bits is just the tip of the iceberg. Here are a few excerpts ...

"To date, 63 kereru (wood pigeon) have been captured and survived at least a fortnight after being radio-tagged. Of these, 28 (44.4%) have died, giving a mean life expectancy of just 0.9 years! Although the cause of death or species of predator involved is not always obvious, the following are the assumed causes:"

"kiwi: So far five of the 11 chicks have been predated, and all in the centre of the treatment area. Surviving kiwi chicks are being left in the wild in the hope that stoat density will not recover quickly enough to make their fate certain. Unfortunately only one of the 11 monitored chicks hatched early enough in the season to get the full benefit of the aerial knock-down."

"Last season we monitored 14 kiwi chicks. This work was to measure chick survival in the wild after a very effective 21,000 ha aerial 1080 operation. Eight chicks successfully hatched in the wild: four were predated by stoats, one dropped its transmitter at 1370 g and three are still being monitored. Six eggs were taken to Rainbow due to nest abandonment and were hatched successfully. The new chicks were then released back into their parental territory in Tongariro forest. Three were predated by stoats, one died of hypothermia and two are still alive."

It's convenient to suggest that these results are to be expected - to just assume the deaths are a result of predation - after all, predation is big business. The problem is, the birds are also dying after "successful" poisoning operations, and are being sent to the front-line to test the effectiveness of the poisoning operations.

So what determines whether a poison operation is successful or not, and how long does the full benefit of an aerial knock-down last? A successful drop may mean killing rats and possums, but the real predator, the stoat, appears to be largely unaffected - and he's switching his prey. Murphy et al produced this paper .... CHANGE IN DIET OF STOATS FOLLOWING POISONING OF RATS IN A NEW ZEALAND FOREST The researchers found that ... Although rats were the main prey item of stoats before the poisoning, stoat abundance was unaffected by the operation and there was a change in stoats' diet from rats to birds.

If aerial operations are "very effective" at killing pests, why are so many birds being fitted with radio-tags and effectively, being sent to the front-line to determine if predators remain in the drop-zone?

The number of radio-tagged birds that are assumed to have died by predation, is high.

If birds are declared to have been killed by a predator in poison operational areas, they are overlooked for testing for 1080 poison residues. Not surprisingly then, between 1999 and 2007, only one kiwi was tested for 1080 residues (revealed under the Official Information Act).

Documentation suggests hundreds of kiwi have died within this period. Why has only one bird been tested for 1080 poison residues? Surely, all native species found dead in poisoned areas should be tested, even where bait-stations are used?

In 2008 an endangered takahe died at Mt Bruce, and the following month 4 adult kiwi died at Mt Bruce. The cause of the 4 kiwi deaths was deemed to be predation.

It wasn't to be the last time there was a predator attack at the heavily bait-stationed Mt Bruce. 12 kiwi died there last year. Of the 12 birds found dead, within the 4 week period, none were tested for poison residues. The cause of death was determined to be predation. It was reported that 2 ferrets managed to cover 950 hectares, to hunt down the 12 kiwi. Impressive.

DoC state that adult kiwi can fend off predators. An OIA request revealed that 10 of the 12 dead kiwi at Mt Bruce were adult birds, in good condition..

More recently, 6 Kaka died at Mt Bruce. Surprisingly, 3 were tested and found to have died from eating poison bait. Not surprisingly, all our curious, endemic parrots - kaka, kea, and kakariki - are attracted to poisonous bait, and have been found dead with poison residues in their carcasses.

After the kaka deaths a news item stated "The kaka were eating the cereal pellets containing the poison and Mr Lester (DoC) said staff immediately began adding metal plates to the 1200 bait stations within the reserve to stop the birds getting into the plastic containers."

The decision to test these birds was a good one. It proved that kaka are prone to eating poisonous food and will even break into bait stations to access it. It is not unreasonable to suggest that when poisonous food is dropped from helicopters, as in the recent Project Kaka, in the Tararua Forest Park, that the birds will eat the toxic bait that's supposed to protect them. Especially when it's dropped into their nests.

We have filmed the impacts of poison drops, right across the country. We have found plenty of evidence of dead birds that have been scavenged. I suggest that if stoats are being poisoned in aerial operations, it is because they are predating on birds dying from 1080 poisoning and, or, scavenging on birds that have died from 1080 poisoning.

However, research suggests that stoat populations are not affected in poison drops.

Murphy et al found that ... Overall, rats and invertebrates were major components of stoat diet, occurring in 40.8% and 52.4% of guts respectively (Table 1). Mouse remains were found in 11.5% of guts. Lagomorphs and possums did not feature prominently in the diet. Bird remains were found in 19.3% of guts. Most of the bird remains that could be identified further were passerines, which occurred in 7.5% of guts (and included blackbirds Turdus merula and finches).

So is our willingness to sacrifice our native birds to measure predator populations, and the "success" of poisoning operations, something of the past?

It seems not. Just recently, 23 of 34 native Morepork (originally thought to be 31) died after being fitted with radio tracking equipment to determine the effects on the species after a 1080 poison operation in the Waitutu Valley, Fiordland.

And yesterday, we were informed that the Tongariro Forest is about to get another dosing of 1080 - 20,000 hectares! (Some of the excerpts above are from 10 year old research, from aerial poison drops in the Tongariro Forest). And to top it off, DoC are going to be presenting more young, radio-tagged kiwi to the predators to try to determine if the 1080 drops still aren't working.

DoC spokesperson Nick Poutu, in yesterday's news item, stated "the aerial bait drop was an important goal for DoC, reducing the rat numbers in the forest as well as reducing the ferret and stoat populations from secondary poisoning. These predators have been responsible for a great deal of the local kiwi population recently, with large numbers of monitored adult kiwi succumbing to ferrets in the last couple of years," Mr Poutu said.

He said DoC would be monitoring the survival of kiwi chicks after the bait drop to see if it gave them any respite from stoat predation."

This announcement by DoC yesterday, that "large numbers of monitored adult kiwi" are still being killed by predators, is more evidence that aerial poison drops clearly aren't working. DoC have been aerially poisoning the Tongariro Forest for decades. If aerial drops were working, these birds wouldn't be dying. All birds found dead in aerial drop-zones should be tested for poison residues.

We keep doing the same thing, year after year - and the results are the same - large numbers of dead, native birds, and no evidence of benefit. Research is important, but our willingness to use our native wildlife as bait - and our efforts to prove that the use of broad-spectrum, poison-laced food doesn't kill wildlife - needs to be stopped. It's time to stop risking our native wildlife to predation and poisoning operations, and to start targeting the pests in our forests, directly.

One of the most informative assembly of information and facts about aerial 1080 drops in New Zealand, in an easy to access medium, is the documentary Poisoning Paradise.


  1. Clyde to answer your question - no we are not too reckless when attaching tracking equipment to our native birds nor are we using our native species as expendable guinea pigs. Why throw out rhetorical rubbish like this? Is it because you don't like the results such as the morepork study in Southland that proved your guesswork about 1080 was wrong and your video was misleading?

  2. Hi Ian. I believe the evidence suggests those involved with endemic and native species handling, are too reckless. I also believe some DoC staff are too careless with the comments they make in the media, and don't mind mis-leading the public.

    If you are referring to Poisoning Paradise, in regard to your comments about "my video" - it's not mis-leading, it's very important, very informative, and every New Zealand should see it, so they can be informed about what is taking place in our forests. And they should also be presented with DoC's video, too.

    One of the two opposing versions would overwhelmingly reveal - that as a civilised country we should never be "seen" to be behaving in such a reckless and inhumane way with regard to our poisoning operations. But that's the point - it is not "seen", and so, as a country good at self promoting, we get away with it.

    I don't believe my "guess work" isn't wrong - the truth is in the hills, among the wildlife, and it will eventually be revealed, not between the lines of advocacy research. (Although, much is revealed between the lines of the advocacy research) I'm not sure what happened with the ruru, yet, that's why I've asked for the information through an OIA. Unfortunately, we can't rely on DoC to inform the public about what's really going on with these 1080 drops.

    Don't be afraid of some opposition - without it, you have a dictatorship.

  3. Clyde you certainly haven't produced any evidence to back your guesswork.

    If we were too reckless attaching miniature transmitters then how do you explain our very successful BNZ Operation nest Egg programme for kiwi which by your reckoning should have failed completely? The programme relies on this technology and in the case of rowi the technology has enabled 40 kiwi chicks a year to be reared that would have otherwise been killed.

    The morepork that died before the 1080 operation in Southland did so because of an extreme snow event in spring – this one in 50-year event was well document in the media. You might want to "believe", but reality is that morepork and other birds do die in extreme weather. In this case we are aware of the mortality because they were being tracked. It's simple and there is no complex conspiracy involved.

    Your video does mislead people, and the tracking technology is showing you up.

  4. The one-20-year snow fall they just had down there, must have extincted the morepork by now, at the rates these birds are dying. How are the smaller species doing after that weather event? According to DoC's minute counts, there's no change. Just the tagged morepork died in big numbers.

    In 2006, in the Urewera National Park, we had a once-in-over-100 year snow fall.
    The Morepork are doing fine there - no 1080 to help them, either.

    It will be interesting to see what's going wrong in the Tongariro area, with the tagged, adult kiwi deaths. Especially when so much poison is being dropped there, and the predators that are reportedly killing them, are meant to be killed by these poison drops.

    Which part of Poisoning Paradise is misleading?

  5. Clyde - are "breeding population" and "total population" one and the same thing?

  6. Clyde… the radio tracking proved that morepork are not driven to extinction by extreme snow events in springtime. The tracking also showed that none of the remaining morepork in the study were killed by the 1080 operation. Neither were any radio tracked kaka killed by 1080 and they have since had the best nesting success seen at Waitutu for decades. Hunters have also commented on the improvement to birdlife in that area since the operation. Your confabulation about Te Urewera morepork being unaffected by snow some six years ago is just more guesswork on your part because you have not measured it. Weather conditions do stress and kill birds; for example, more than 100,000 prions were killed by extreme weather conditions last month. And, let’s not forget about the birds that you collected in the snow at Nelson Lakes and falsely claimed were a sample of 12,000 birds killed by 1080.

    Regards your Tongariro rhetoric – ferrets kill kiwi and that’s a fact. Another fact is that we use miniature transmitters on kiwi with excellent results which is why the BNZ Operation Nest Egg programme works so well.

    As for your video let’s start with your fresh water crayfish misinformation. You implied that crays were at risk with dramatic footage of them eating bait… but the research available to you before you started your video project demonstrated that crays would feed on cereal baits and excrete the 1080. You filmed your crays in a location that had a history of 1080 use prior to the baits you were filming. You kept quiet about the fact that there was a good population of crays in this area despite previous 1080 use and you did not mention that the real research had demonstrated that crays are not at risk from 1080.

  7. I don't know about the morepork, I'm still waiting on the results of an OIA.

    Have you, Ian (DoC) been observing nesting success on kaka for decades? Who monitored the kaka after the drop? DoC. DoC were stating how successful the drop was going to be, before the drop. Do you really think they were going to change their mind?
    I've heard from someone involved with the drop, that the drop wasn't so successful.

    1080 is "overwhelming successful" DoC say of the Tongariro poison drops, but we then have an DoC staff member state - in a news release that was obviously missed by the PR department (and contrary to your comments that no radio tagged kiwi have died of 1080 poison in that heavily poisoned forest) that adult Kiwi are dying, in concerning numbers - and, after "successful poisoning operations!!!!

    I've never seen a ferret in the dense forest, where these kiwi are dying. Stoats, but not ferrets. Ferrets like the farm boundaries, and like rabbits, for example. I'm sure ferrets do occur, if DoC says so, but not in great numbers. Perhaps you should start targeting them, and stop feeding young, tagged kiwi to them to find out if they're there?

    RE - crays. We implied nothing of the sort - yet it is likely to be true - we showed that the crays love the bait, and that many other endemic birds and aquatic life feed on crays, and should be able to - without having the deadly DoC applied poison leaching from their bodies. What a disgrace. You don't even take into account the extent of where the poisons you drop terminate.

    The crays that were tested in the surren "study" were killed before they could die. Take another invertebrate, the endemic weta, they take up to 14 days to die of 1080 poisoning, as was demonstrated when 50% of the tested population was killed - but surren killed all the crays in his "study", well before they may have died from the poison. We don't know, because, as usual, we can't rely on DoC funded "research".

    The area in the Wanganui where we were filming, we understand was a virgin drop, as i have pointed out before. Besides, as we have also pointed out, not 100% of wildlife is killed in your drops, just large numbers, in some cases.

    DoC, for years, have stated to the public that they don't drop 1080 into waterways, yet it took the Poisoning Paradise doco for DoC to admit they do, and in all streams under 3 metres in size. Although we've seen bait in plenty of larger streams.

    Your poison drops are killing our native wildlife, your drops are killing animals in an inhumane way - your drops are ecocide. It's time to stop, before you extinct many of our endemic species.

  8. Clyde - are "breeding population" and "total population" one and the same thing?

  9. Why don't you inform us about populations, Aaron?
    If you're referring to Mapara, we can say that the 'breeding population didn't increase 10-fold", as was reported in the DoC brochure, and that any increase in population was likely to have been as a result of ground-based, pest control work, that was employed after the aerial 1080 was stopped. As is pointed out by he scientists on Poison Paradise.

    As was recorded in the Mapara study, the stoat population didn't decrease during the aerial operations. And given that possums aren't a significant predator, there was no benefit to the aerial drops, until the stoats were targeted directly, by trapping.

    As was pointed out in Poisoning Paradise, the best data that came from the Mapara study was that ground-based, targeted trapping may actually help Kokako populations increase.

  10. Hi Clyde - I'm happy to point out the mistakes about the Mapara study which you made in Poisoning Paradise. Again. But first, can we agree to keep the discussion civil and not use 'ignorant' or 'Nazi'?