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Environment

History of poisoning on the Coromandel: Issue One

The NZ government set up a business making 1080 baits way back in the middle of last century.
 |  John Veysey  | 

They imported the 1080 poison and made 1080-baits for spreading wherever they could find a “pest” to poison. The rabbit was the first victim and the 1080 bait factory got underway. The government made the baits and controlled their distribution through the rabbit boards and then regional councils.

When the rabbits could absorb no more 1080, new “pests” were sought. That next “pest”, the one to really get this business off the ground, was the possum. The possum had first been imported to provide NZ with a fur industry but the government showed no interest in fur. The possums were left to their own devices and became rather populous in places. The government funded trappers to control possums in these populous places, but then government realised that all this trapping could be done with 1080 baits.

All publicly-owned land, about one third of NZ, lay exposed. The 1080 was needed or else our forests would disappear under an epidemic of possums. An epidemic like this needed an emergency solution and this was 1080.

Preserving instead of destroying the native was a new concept and the spreading of 1080 baits presented itself as the most practical and lucrative way forward. The term “conservation” was adopted. Conservation and poison started life together and, hand in hand, have remained DoC’s driving force ever since.

Large tracts of public land frequented only by hunters and hikers received 1080 baits for the first time. Bait manufacture increased and all eyes were set on the 8 million ha of public land out there awaiting 1080 baits. It was a huge job and in 1987 the department of conservation (DoC) came into being primarily to distribute more 1080 baits. The DoC staff who set up office in Coromandel town spent their first few years looking round for places to poison.

Leaping ahead for a minute:

In 1994, DoC dropped their first 1080 baits over Coromandel Peninsula. Today, thirty years later, every inch of our DoC-managed land has been covered in 1080 baits; sometimes more than once. DoC’s mission has been accomplished.

Staff numbers can now be cut down and the 1080 baits will keep coming automatically at the maximum rate our area will allow. 1080 drops on the Peninsula come on a 4-yearly cycle. Staff are now getting ready to drop their baits over the entire south end of the Peninsula.

I was recently asked: “When a dog eats a dead possum and dies, is that “secondary poisoning”? It is indeed secondary poisoning which is practically unavoidable when a poisoned creature on its last legs strays into the dog’s back yard. Theoretically, DoC will be dropping enough poison to kill more than 30 million dogs.