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.