In what has been described as the most ambitious conservation project (I wouldn’t describe it as that) the government of New Zealand plans to kill, over a period of 35 years, all predators who prey on birds in New Zealand. This of course must include feral cats. New Zealand has a not too dissimilar attitude towards feral cats as Australia. The attitude could be described as a dislike for the feral cat, to put it mildly.
Many of the predators will be poisoned. The poison will be sodium fluoroacetate. This is commonly called 1080. It causes heart or respiratory failure in mammals, apparently.
Many “introduced species” or to use another term “non-native species” which are predators to birds have thrived in New Zealand. They have been introduced to the islands since the 13th century when the Maori of Polynesia arrived bringing with them Pacific rats for food. Rats prey on birds.
Norway rats were stowaways on early British sailing steps. British settlers brought with them hedgehogs, quail, mallards, partridges, brown trout, house sparrows and rabbits. The rabbits thrived which resulted in the importation of ferrets and weasels to try and control them. The control attempt failed but the weasels prospered and along with the rats preyed and fed upon eggs and infant birds.
The effect on New Zealand’s native birds has been devastating. One main reason for this is because up until the introduction of non-native predators into New Zealand the birds had no natural predators and as a consequence many developed traits which left them vulnerable such as ground-feeding and ground-dwelling lifestyles.
The national emblem of New Zealand is the Kiwi which is a flightless bird. You can imagine how vulnerable this famous bird is. I’m sure that the government has been highly motivated to make their decision to exterminate these predators because of the vulnerability of the Kiwi and because of it has declined to less than 70,000 individuals in the country today. Apparently out of every 20 Kiwi chicks born in the wild 19 are killed by, yes, non-native bird eating predators.
The eradication process over this large landmass will cost an estimated NZ$9 billion. This represents about three quarters of the country’s annual Social Security and welfare budget.
We are told that 34% of New Zealand’s native birds have been extirpated from the islands to never return. These birds include giant eagles and wrens.
I can understand the attitude of New Zealand’s government in wishing to protect their native bird species. Personally I don’t like the method. It is, in all honesty, a human generated mess of giant proportions. Humans introduced the predators in the first place. They did so without any thought about the consequences and now, late in the day, they see the consequences and don’t like it so they are determined to kill in large numbers.
It is almost certain that the project will fail. No country and nobody has ever tried to carry out such an ambitious and wide-ranging project. It is a massive task. There’s bound to be collateral damage by which I mean many other animals other than bird-eating predators will be killed at the same time. There may be health concerns regarding humans because if you are using tons of poison as they must in this project then I would suspect that people are also in some danger. New Zealand is the biggest user of the poison 1080. They buy 80% of world supplies.
There may well be some more unforeseen consequences arising out of this project. Just wait and see.