Friday, January 27, 2012

Does aerial-dropped poisoned food benefit New Zealand's birds?

Dr Alexis Pietak has undertaken, and now completed, a review of the "mark-recapture" research used to support the use of 1080 poison-laced food to control introduced mammalian species in New Zealand forests. I have pasted the conclusions of her paper below, the remainder of her paper can be viewed by pressing the link, also below.

(Dr Alexis Pietak is a biomedical research scientist, biophysicist, and author who lived in New Zealand from 2005- May 2011. She specialised in biomaterials and biophysics research after completing a PhD in Physics from Queen's University in 2004, which followed her two university degrees in Engineering Physics (2000) and Biochemistry (2001). )


1080-poisoned food operations in NZ are supported on an extremely large scale of operation largely because of the apparent existence of a solid body of scientific evidence to support their selectivity, safety, and efficacy. Regarding birds, the main hypotheses of 1080-poisoned food advocates are that 1) aerial poisoned food drops are selective to mammals, and that 2) the benefits of mammalian predator removal for avian species outweigh the risks of death in an aerial 1080 operation. In this report support for these hypotheses were explored by first addressing the selectivity issue, and by assessing an existing hard data set composed of all mark-recapture bird surveys performed in New Zealand from 1986 to 2009 from the basis of experimental design and statistical criteria typically to evaluate scientific investigations and data. 

There is no basis to expect 1080-poisoned food operations are selective only to mammals. Birds with normal to high tolerance for 1080 can reach lethal doses by consuming 1080-poisoned food at 0.6 to 12.5 % of their daily food ration. In addition, there is no evidence that the cinnamon scent or colourings used to treat baits deters birds. Furthermore, secondary poisoning of insectivorous species may be possible from invertebrates containing 1080 toxin.  Food poisoned with compound 1080 cannot be assumed to be selective for mammals and hence, non-target deaths of a wide array of bird species remain a distinct possibility.

The exploration of the existing hard data set of 49 mark-recapture bird surveys conducted over 23 years revealed basic flaws in scientific experimental design including the overwhelming lack of a control group, small sample size, and short-term studies of three weeks or less follow-up time. On account of the small sample sizes, no study was able to reliably detect kill rates of 20% or lower, and 16% of studies could not reliably detect kill rates of up to 90%, making them completely ineffectual. A final issue with the existing hard data is the very large number of endemic birds that have not been studied and can easily be identified as being of high mortality risk due to corpses found after 1080-poisoned food operations and their innate feeding tendencies.
 Only one study investigated 1080-exposed and control groups with longer-term follow ups of several months and found no statistically significant difference in the lifespan in treated or non-treated birds. Only three investigations of breeding success were found, and two concluded with no detected difference between treated and untreated areas. Therefore, it can be concluded that there is only very limited evidence that aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food may improve breeding success in two species (kereru and robin), one to two breeding seasons following a 1080-poisoned food drop.  

In conclusion, insubstantial hard data evidence was found to support the hypotheses 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, the existing data indicate that aerial 1080-operations may decimate certain endemic bird populations. 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 poisoned food operations is warranted. Continuous, controlled bait access methods for mammalian predator control (bait boxes and trapping) are recommended as an alternative to aerial dropped poisoned food.   

To view Dr. Pietak's full report, please click on the link below ...

About Dr. Alexis Pietak ...
Dr Alexis Pietak is a biomedical research scientist, biophysicist, and author who lived in New Zealand from 2005- May 2011. More information about Dr Pietak can be found at or contact Dr Pietak at
In previous years, I specialised in biomaterials and biophysics research after completing a PhD in Physics from Queen's University in 2004, which followed my two university degrees in Engineering Physics (2000) and Biochemistry (2001). Since then, I've worked as a scientific researcher at the University of Canterbury's Mechanical Engineering Department (biomaterials and biophysics), at Queen's University's Human Mobility Centre (tissue engineering), at the University of Canterbury's Chemistry Department (nanofabrication and biophysics), and at the University of Otago's Department of Anatomy and Structural Biology (biomaterials).

As of 2008, my life has transitioned from a role of mainstream researcher to one of an independent scientist. I’m currently exploring applications of complex systems theory to sustainability, as well as participating in a burgeoning scientific movement which seeks to embrace and develop holistic and alternative scientific views of life. I’m the author of the book, Life as Energy: Opening the Mind to a New Science of Life, published by Floris Books, UK, in February 2011. I also work as a scientific editor, helping people communicate technical ideas/results through peer-reviewed manuscripts, grant proposals, and theses. I aim to express my main ideas through conventional scientific avenues, and have successful published a number of peer-reviewed academic papers to date.

I became aware of the massive, large-scale use of aerial-dropped poisoned food in New Zealand while living there from February 2005 to May 2011. As a lover of nature, my common sense alerted me to the high capacity for widespread deaths of a large number of bird species in aerial poisoned food operations. I realized that aerial 1080-poisoned food drops received such governmental and public support because there apparently existed a solid body of scientific evidence to support their selectivity to mammals, and their overall safety and benefits to an ecosystem. In March of 2009 I began to search for this apparent scientific support, and was appalled at the flimsy and cherry-picked ‘evidence’ that I found.  Today I’m proud to join ranks with those fighting to stop the catastrophe of aerial poisoned food drops in New Zealand.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Letter to the New Zealand Ecological Society.

A Letter to the New Zealand Ecological Society.
 - By Bill Benfield - 
The editorial (following at the end of this letter) of the December edition of the NZ Ecological Society’s newsletter is an interesting window into the mind of one of those involved in New Zealand’s conservation science. While the editor may not be the society, it is reasonable to expect that the editor’s views and attitudes would reflect those of the ecological society as a whole.

It chronicles the events of the year, starting with Prime Minister John Key's likening ecologists to lawyers, much to her chagrin. It then recounts the editor’s travels, in the first instance, beset by the sight of posters on the West Coast seeking to ban 1080. She questions the motives, or "just the plain ignorance" of those responsible. Her second event was an encounter that left her feeling frustrated with a fellow passenger "misinformed about 1080" on an airline and who, despite her obvious badgering, failed to accept her views. She reflects that people only take on new information that supports their view. In her blinkered vision, does she not see that it is her, and even possibly the Ecological Society itself, that is equally as guilty of failing to see the legitimacy of other viewpoints?

The editorial outlines coming advocacy strategies of an ecological society that believes its ends can be best achieved by carpet bombing the land with a deadly universal poison; even to the indoctrinating of young children - shades of the Hitler Youth! Of course, if the arguments supporting 1080 were sound, there would be no need for indoctrination as advocated by the editor of the Ecolgical Society's  newsletter - see Editorial below.

It is interesting to consider the pre-disposition displayed in this editorial when looking at the society’s role as the publisher, through its journal, of peer reviewed scientific articles on the impacts and benefits of aerial 1080 operations. 

Typical would be a study to determine the effects of 1080 on kaka and kereru survival and nesting success. It is cited by both DoC and Forest and Bird as a success story for 1080. (Powlesland R.G. Wills D.E. August A.C.L. & August C.K. Effects of a 1080 operation on kaka and kereru survival and nesting success, Whirinaki Forest Park. New Zealand Journal of Ecology. Vol 27 No2. 2003. P 125 to 127.). What is interesting about this study is that there is a poisoned area and an un-poisoned control. The impacts of the poisoning are monitored for the "predators" (possum, rats and stoats) in both areas and the results compared. They show aerial 1080 is a stunning success story for stoats whose numbers have exploded post poisoning; rats have recovered to their former levels in two years. Slow breeding possum have logically not recovered, but it is claimed fur recovery operations in the control area have depressed that population to the same level as in the poisoned area. For the kaka and kereru, the results on survival and breeding success between the poisoned area and the un-poisoned control have been combined, so absolutely no conclusion can be drawn as to the benefits or otherwise arising from 1080 operations. 

It begs the question, would the results have been combined if field observations had shown a clear and conclusive benefit to the birds from 1080 poisoning? The abstract then claims that aerial 1080 "should" benefit these bird populations. There is absolutely no evidence it "should" or "should not" benefit. Although the study is meaningless in terms of what it set out to achieve, it does provide compelling evidence that predators are the real beneficiaries of aerial 1080 and, as the result for the birds has been concealed, we are left to assume that the consequences for them were dire.

Other peer reviewed studies published by the society reveal similar flaws:-Sweetapple P. Fraser K. and Knightbridge P. "Diet and impacts of brushtail possum across an invasion front in South Westland". New Zealand Journal of Ecology28(1) 2004. P19 -33. This study claims in the abstract, the part most people read, that forest bird populations "declined with increasing length of possum occupation". In the body of the report, it changes its tune to "weak support" for the hypothesis that native bird numbers decrease with increased length of possum occupation. From examination of the actual observations a case can be made that there is an increase in bird numbers with increasing length of possum occupation.

Another would be the often cited Powlesland R, Knegtmans J, Styche A. "Mortality of North Island tomtits (Petroica macrocephala toitoi) caused by aerial 1080 possum control operations, 1997-98, Pureora Forest Park". New Zealand Journal of Ecology 24(2): 161-168 (2000). This study is claimed by DoC to show the beneficial effects of aerial 1080 to tomtits, robins and moreporks. To the untrained the study looks sound, but to scientists, Drs. Pat & Quinn Whiting O’Keefe, there is significant and deceptive use of statistical analysis of the raw data. They also found tests of statistical significance were not used to support major conclusions. The only explanation they could offer is deliberate misrepresentation. (Drs. Pat & Quinn Whiting O’Keefe. "Aerial Monoflouroacetate in New Zealand’s Forest". Submission to ERMA. 2007.)

The question has to be asked, is this peer reviewed science, as published by the New Zealand Ecological Society, the result of incompetence or is it a deliberate and ethically questionable manipulation of data to suit an agenda? The December editorial would suggest the latter but, either way, I think many people would call it "junk science". It certainly does nothing for the reputation and integrity of New Zealand science. The real tragedy is that it is the "science" used to justify the continued destruction of New Zealand’s unique beautiful wildlife and forests. It is used by people such as the Parliamentary Commissioner of the Environment in the preparation of her report endorsing the continued use of 1080. It is used by both DoC and the Royal Forest & Bird "Protection" Society to support their venal objectives to the expense of New Zealand’s conservation.

Clearly, to have any credibility, the New Zealand Ecological Society should immediately examine the role of its journal editors. The whole published catalogue should then be properly scrutinised and purged of rubbish such as the examples here. When you think about it, it is lawyers who may feel aggrieved by John Key likening them to ecologists!
Yours Faithfully. W.F. Benfield.
(W.F. Benfield is the author of the book "The Third Wave – Poisoning the Land" published by Tross Publishing. E-mail Address <>

A series of recent events has convinced me of the importance of getting sound ecological knowledge out into the public domain. John Key’s BBC interview in which he likened ecologists to lawyers was a shocker. A West Coast holiday with anti-1080 "Poisoning Paradise" posters lining the otherwise empty roads was hardly surprising. The "Ban 1080" election hoardings placed by vote-hungry (or possibly just plain ignorant) politicians were rather more galling. A random conversation on a flight home from Auckland with a stranger misinformed about 1080 but unprepared to read about the facts (good and bad) left me feeling particularly frustrated. Perhaps it was a manifestation of the phenomenon observed by social scientists that people tend to only take on board new information that supports the viewpoint they already hold.
So what can we do as individual ecologists and as a society? In the short term, it’s policy makers, politicians and other decision makers that we need to influence. Some politicians never let the facts get in the way of a good story, so maybe these ones are a lost cause. But I’m pleased to say that Fleur Maseyk has taken on the role of Submissions Officer for the NZ Ecological Society, so we will now be able to respond much more effectively to important issues. In the long term, we need to dramatically improve the ecological knowledge of the general public. Ultimately, the New Zealand public will decide the future of our country by how they vote and their submissions during public consultation. I’ve always said we need to indoctrinate children when they’re young—I’ll be keeping that in mind when doing my Christmas shopping this year!