Opinion by Andi Cockroft
Watching our Prime Minister at her regular Covid-19 press conferences, it was intriguing to see her draw a distinction between “elimination” and “eradication”. Puzzled – because to me they have the same meaning – I went to my Thesaurus. After all, a thesaurus or dictionary of words with the same or nearly the same meanings, i.e. they mean exactly the same thing – at least in English. Not so apparently in political speak.
However, as I understand the situation, New Zealand will never completely eliminate – or eradicate – Covid-19, no matter how hard we try.
There will always remain a carrier here or there totally asymptomatic ready, willing and able to unknowingly start a new outbreak.
Indeed, some are suggesting a second wave is not a simple question of IF, but when.
So it appears our entire Government, with apparent cross-party support, agree completely that total eradication or elimination of Covid-19 is just not possible. Even if a vaccine is developed, the virus appears to be capable of mutating in just the way any virus can. Overseas research suggest there may already be between 10 and 15 variants in circulation already.
So what has this to do with us and other Government policies you might ask?
Well, what of the Predator Free 2050 programme? A multi-billion dollar attempt to eradicate not only predators (no native of course), but also anything deemed as a “pest” by the ideologically driven Forest and Bird or the incompetent Department of Conservation.
Just as it’s an impossible job of eradicating Covid-19, eradicating a species stereotyped as a pest, is a mere pipe-dream – albeit a very expensive pipe-dream.
At a time when we need to “pull our horns in” fiscally, it makes no sense at all to pursue an impossible dream such as Predator Free 2050. Those billions would be far better paying down debt.
Added benefits would easily accrue. If you believe that Mother Nature needs protection, fine – although there are many areas seemingly doing far better left “unprotected” by DOC and their off-sider OSPRI who bizarrely pursue a goal of total eradication of bovine TB – despite New Zealand being one of the most bovine TB free countries in the world and of course the impossibility of achieving elimination – sorry I meant eradication.
Rats and mustelids (stoats, ferrets, and weasels) will be impossible to eradicate. The evidence is overwhelming that bashing rats with 1080 within a few years has caused a super plague of rodents.
Here’s a few samples by scientists:-
“even when rat densities were reduced by 90%, they recovered within 2-5 months (Innes et al 1995).”
Other science supports this observation.
“Ship rat numbers can be reduced by 90% but this effect is short-lived (Warburton, 1989; Innes and Williams, 1991)”
And in the same paper the comment after a widespread aerial 1080 poisoning operation on the 10th September 1990
“In the following January rat abundance was still only 11% of the pre-poison average, but by April there was no significant difference between pre- and post-poison rat indices (Innes and Williams, 1991)”
In other words the rat population had completely recovered after seven months.
The momentum of the rat recovery continues to become a population explosion. Within about three years the rat numbers will be 3 to 4 times original before-poison numbers.
It is a total disruption of the predator prey relationships and it ripples further. This is not taking into account the direct loss of insect and bird life from the 1080 prison drop itself.
The ripple-on effect from the stimulated rat increase due to 1080 results in stoats and cats which prey on rats, in turn greatly increasing in numbers with their greatly increased food supply in the abundance of rats.
But before that immediately following the 1080 drop, stoats have a food problem with the 80-90% reduction in rat numbers. With rat numbers cut by perhaps 80% from 1080, the stoats switch prey to birds and invertebrate insects…
True that some stoats would be killed by secondary poisoning of eating poisoned dying or dead rats. Research has shown the prey switch of stoats following 1080. One paper shows before poisoning stoat diet was 71% rats, but immediately following 1080 removing the majority of rodents, the rats were only 17%.
The prey switch is shown by birds before 1080 comprising just 6% of stoat diet but immediately afterwards with rats numbers heavily reduced, rising to 56%.
Invertebrates rose from 6% to 17%.
“Intermittent control of possums and ship rats may have the net effect of increasing ship rats most of the time said scientists Sweetapple and Nugent in a 2007 study.
In simple words, an area of forest not subject to 1080 drops will have a lower average number of rats than an area which receives regular 1080 drops.
The Year of the Rat
A 1080 drop sets the stage for a perfect storm of rats.
Rats are the success story of Nature in terms of breeding.
They have enormous breeding potential. One study graphically states
“Should a large percentage of rats face extermination, those that survive will multiply their reproductive rate and restore the old population level to such an extent that just two rats have the ability to create a lineage of a million descendants in 18 months tops!”
“Rats are capable of reproducing at about 3 months of age. After mating pregnancy lasts for 21-24 days and averaging 6-11 young rats in a litter”
“Female rats can breed again 1 to 2 days after giving birth.”
As for possums surely the most maligned animal in New Zealand’s pest saga, they are actually a resource.
Far more sensible would be to harvest them by trapping and hunting which in turn gives employment, very vital in the post-covid recovery.
Possum fur plucked is fetching a price of about $120 a kg, compared to cross-bred wool at about $3 a kg. There is great potential for an export trade in possum fur especially blended with fine merino wool. Possum meat has great potential both in pet food and for human consumption. Venison and wild pork can feed many for sustenance but if only it comes from areas not poisoned by 1080 – a horrendous Class 1a eco-toxin.
Pet food manufacture and export was carried out by Bryan Bassett-Smith in the Bay of Plenty. But his main export market to Japan was obliterated overnight in 2007 when Japanese television screened a programme on New Zealand’s 1080 programme carried out to kill possums. His Japanese market instantly cancelled further business!
Possum research shows that marsupials possess high levels of omega acids, also making them ideal for human consumption.
Bryan Bassett-Smith was quoted as saying a huge potential exists for New Zealand to export the meat for human consumption, particularly to China, where a similar creature, the civet cat, is eaten.
This has a further link to the current Covid 19 matter. If we surrender to solving the human problem of Covid-19, surely the same logic dictates we surrender the nonsense of Predator Free 2050?
For even if back-country New Zealand does have all so-called “pests” eradicated, you can never eliminate feral cats, dogs, and all manner of rodents from urban and semi-urban areas. They’ll just adapt and spread out at the first opportunity.
It’s time for politicians and governments to deal with this problem of 1080 and not forgetting an even worse toxin, brodifacoum. The 1080 “industry” is being feasted on in monetary terms by a ridiculous SOE storing and distributing the poison, the Department of Conservation, the OSPRI charade and compliant scientists.
As conservationist and author the late Bill Benfield said “it’s follow the money trail”. That money is public taxpayers’ money.
And that money is being used to create major ecological disruptions to the natural food chain of predator-prey relationships with disastrous consequences for our indigenous bio-diversity that embrace birds and invertebrate insects, not forgetting valued game species such as deer.
Footnote: Andi Cockroft is chairman of the council of Outdoor Recreation Associations. While this in detail is his personal opinion gleaned from science, the council is strongly opposed to the use of the ecosystem poison 1080.