Soon after my article, The Farallon Islands Mouse Eradication Project: The "Con" in Conservation was published by Huff Post in January, I began to receive emails from New Zealand. After my second article was published in May, more emails followed and I began a dialogue with many concerned and angry people in New Zealand who were unhappy with the government campaign to eradicate invasives with poison.
One Kiwi I connected with was Clyde Graf from Hamilton, New Zealand. Clyde serves as Councillor, Thames-Coromandel General Constituency and is Chair of the Environmental Performance Committee for Waikato Regional Council. In addition, Clyde is an outdoorsman, conservationist and filmmaker, and is one half of The Graf Boys.
Along with his brother Steve, Clyde has documented the wide range of animals and birds poisoned in the forests of New Zealand, providing graphic evidence of the war that the government of New Zealand has declared against its own environment, and, by extension, the people who rely on the forest and their domestic livestock for a living.
I invited Clyde to share his experiences in witnessing this campaign over the last eight years. This is a story that desperately needs to be told.
The Graf Boys, Filmmakers documenting New Zealand's Ecocide
My brother Steve and I had our first encounter with the results of an air drop of poison pellets in 2006 when we filmed our first documentary named A Shadow of Doubt. This documentary played twice on Maori Television, was a soft approach, and pointed no fingers.
In 2008, while exploring the Kahurangi National Park we photographed a native Weka (a chicken-sized ground-dwelling bird) feeding on a brushy-tailed possum carcass. This immediately set off alarm bells because any dead animal, bird or insect killed by the poison is toxic to any other animal, bird or insect that eats it. This chain reaction is called Secondary Poisoning.
Prior to that, we had been unaware that native ground-dwelling birds consumed animal carcasses. It was a disturbing observation, and clearly demonstrated that the aerial spreading of 1080 (a poison which causes a slow death from cardiac failure or respiratory arrest) or other poisons into New Zealand's forests was irresponsible, to say the least. We immediately started filming the 4 x international environmental award winning documentary, Poisoning Paradise.
For over 50 Years NZ has used Aircraft to Aerially Disperse Rat Poisons, be it 1080 or Brodifacoum.
The aerial poison debate in New Zealand has raged for many years with fierce advocates on both sides of the argument. It began as a campaign in the last century to eliminate introduced animals and restore the "pristine" New Zealand ecosystem. Yearly, government entities fund a considerable number of poisoning projects targeting introduced animals such as possums and rats, on a regional basis. This year, the Department of Conservation (DoC) declared it is going to treble the funding to support their extended, nationwide project - in an operation named "Battle for the Birds". By the time they complete their aerial drops, most New Zealand forests will have been poisoned, many times over.
Helicopters are used to distribute the poison-laced cereal pellets. Every acre is spread with enough 1080 poison to kill more than 2500 dogs, 1250 possums, 563 weka, 113 deer, or 23 humans (based on LD50 published by AHB & Landcare Research - 3kg bait per hectare/0.15% 1080 poison. The LD 50 is the concentration required to kill 50% of a population of animals or birds).
Among the wildlife threatened by indiscriminate poisoning is one of the most intelligent birds on earth - an endangered parrot named the kea. Not only do kea love to eat the poisonous pellets, but they also scavenge poisoned carcasses. It's not surprising then that Kea die in high numbers following 1080 poison drops. Dr Jo Pollard has spent many years researching 1080 science, and has spent the last few months focusing on kea. Her findings are concerning.
New Zealand has other carrion-scavenging, native birds too - weka (rail), kārearea (falcon), ruru (owl), and pukeko (swamp hen). One research paper states "most New Zealand land bird species risk being killed by feeding directly on baits poisoned with Compound 1080 or by eating poisoned prey."
What about kiwi, our iconic bird? In one of New Zealand's most heavily poisoned forests, the Tongariro, in the central North Island, 89 tagged kiwi have died in the last 5 years. More concerning, not one of the 89 dead kiwi birds from the Tongariro Forest's five year tally were tested for 1080 poison residues. In fact, this lack of monitoring and testing to determine the cause of death for birds and animals found dead after poison drops is the most disturbing aspect of the Government campaign. The little monitoring done appears to be structured to avoid any indication that the poison could be affecting non-target species. This finding is supported by the work presented by American scientists Dr. Quinn Whiting-Okeefe and Pat Whiting-Okeefe - living in New Zealand, who co-wrote the report "Aerial Monofluoroacetate (1080) in New Zealand's Forests."
Poisoning Everything; Insects, Soil, Microorganisms, Aquatics and Water.
But the threat to the ecosystem is not limited to animals and birds. 1080 is also a broad - spectrum insecticide! Several entomologists, including the late Mike Meads - speaking in the video below - expressed serious concern for the welfare of forests after poison drops, and in one DoC funded study Meads found that up to 50 % of the insects in the poisoned block, died. Meads also discovered that the residual dust generated from the helicopter hoppers was capable of killing insects, months after a drop. But scientists, keen on feeding their families, know the price you pay for speaking out against 1080 in New Zealand - public ridicule, no more funded research, no more employment, and probably blacklisting for the rest of your career. A price Mike Meads says he paid, years before his death in 2010.
Who cares about creepy crawlies? Dr Alexis Pietak (PhD) found that an insectivorous bird "can receive lethal doses from as little as 14.7% of its daily food intake" from poisoned insects ... " the risk remains high for a least 21 days after the poison drop." Pietak also found that the bird species most researched (nectar/fruit-eating) are the species least likely to be harmed by the poisoning. The harm is to the omnivorous and insect-eating birds. "... large drops in populations of these birds have been noted after aerial poison operations. Tomtit populations have dropped 55%, New Zealand robin populations have been observed to drop between 11% to 95% ... This peer reviewed and published scientific evidence does not forecast promising outcomes for the remaining insectivorous species, which represents a large number of species."
The spectre of poisoning-impacts to the forest lands extends to the risk of 1080 entering the water systems. Following each aerial drop, the pellets and the carcasses which fall in or near the streams are left to decompose, where they fall, and can contaminate the aquatic food chain, which has an impact for months, depending on decomposition rates. This is particularly troubling when you read the manufacturer's label stating ... "Harmful to aquatic organisms", "Eco toxic", "Take measures to minimise the chance of baits accidentally entering any body of water." When the American manufacturer Tull Chemicals, and Fike Enterprises, was questioned about New Zealand's current practices they were both adamant that 1080 should not be applied aerially under any circumstances, let alone where waterways are involved - "it's way too toxic".
The government science research centre - Landcare Research states ... "Water samples taken within 8 hours of bait application are expected to provide the greatest likelihood of detecting any residual 1080." Oddly, the Ministry of Health often stipulates that samples be taken at 24 hours after the drop, and sometimes as late as 48 hours after the drop. This is part of the reason that 1080 poison is not currently detectable in water samples - the poison has already been up-taken by detritus, cellulose, wildlife, and passed through into reservoirs, lakes or out to sea.
Poisoning the Food Supply
It's not just wildlife that's being poisoned. Farm stock are dying too, and there are cover-ups being used to hide incidents. These farmers in the video clip below talk about how, in some cases, 1080 poison has been detected in their stock 12 months after an aerial operation. They also discuss the impact 1080 poison has had on their ability to operate their farms. The fact that 1080 residue can be detected in tissue long after the poison has been consumed is very troubling, and more so - the Ministry of Health states," To date there are no known epidemiological studies that have been carried out in relation to 1080, and potential adverse health effects on humans". That could indicate that if livestock are poisoned by 1080 but do not die and then are sent to slaughter, the consumer may be unwittingly eating meat that could cause sickness.
Poisoning of Domestic Pets
Last but not least, the impact to domestic pets has been minimized by the Government. In 2011, a report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) recommended more 1080 should be used, and she dismissed the impact to domestic pets. The report stated that "only eight dogs were reported to have died from 1080 poisoning in the last 4 years."
Dr. Jo Pollard (PhD-Hon) (BSc) decided to check those figures out. Pollard found that in 2008, the Otago University's Pharmacy School surveyed 125 randomly-selected vets. Fifty two vets responded saying they had treated 65 dogs for 1080 poisoning in a single year. Most of the dogs died. Not all vets in the country were involved in the survey, and most dogs don't make it to the vet. It would be safe to assume that well over 250 dogs were poisoned over the four year period the PCE quoted - not eight.
Follow the Money
So why is the New Zealand Government so dedicated to a campaign targeting exotic animals that uses so much poison? Poisoning exotics is big business! For example, take the brush-tail possum on which 100 million dollars a year is spent. The Brush-tail possum is portrayed to be a bush-stripping, bird-eating predator that spreads bovine tuberculosis and has many offspring every year. In reality, possums are in low numbers across most of New Zealand, don't eat birds as part of their staple diet, have one young per year, do not over-browse the canopy, are rarely found suffering from bovine tuberculosis and, according to research, may have positive benefits via seed dispersal.
The New Zealand story is a sad commentary on the current world-wide crusade to eradicate, by any means possible, any "exotic pest" perceived to be adversely impacting "native" species. All too often this leads to creating an industry that thrives on poisoning animals, water and plants without regard given to the potential impacts to the over-all ecosystem. Unfortunately, the New Zealand Government owns the poison company that promotes and spreads 1080 and brodifacoum poison, and regardless of the wishes of many of the populace, or the long-term impacts on the environment, continues to promote its use. The common response from officials is that the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment completed an independent report that suggested more poison should be used. That report has been critiqued, and many other groups and individuals dismiss the PCE's report as "unqualified".
It is now common for communities to protest at the poison drops sites, and a police presence to ensure the drops are completed, is common. Apparently jobs for contractors and government workers, and revenue from the sale of 1080 is more important.
If you feel compelled to help stop the indiscriminate and inhumane suffering caused by aerial poison drops, the following government officials and organizations that support 1080 poison use in New Zealand can be contacted.