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Environment

History of poisoning on the Coromandel Part Two

As the area of 1080 poisoning expanded, more and more people came face to face with the effects of 1080. The initial hurdle came from the hunters and hikers who noticed the dead bodies of native birds after 1080 drops. This needed explanation.
 |  John Veysey  | 

An explanation team was set up – an ever-expanding staff of scientists charged with finding the best way to spread 1080. They were based at “Landcare”. Later university professors jumped on the bandwagon and 1080 “experts” emerged from all of our universities.

Their first challenge was to find an explanation for the dead native birds which was given to Eric Spurr. Eric did some “research”.

His research showed that the poison would kill a lot of possums and rats which meant that the surviving birds would not be hassled by rats or possums come next breeding season so they would breed up so much more easily that we should expect to see their numbers bounce back better than ever.

On the basis of his ‘science,’ 1080 drops were made just before the birds’ breeding season. Among the Landcare group Eric enjoyed a career for life as the “bird expert”.

Explanations like this formed ‘the science’ behind the spreading of 1080. The system was well-established by the time DoC began poisoning on the Coromandel.

In the 1980’s large areas of NZ lay still to be poisoned and many of those involved in the 1080 strategy set up private companies making their own poison baits in the hope of sharing some of the profits being made by the government owned 1080 factory (GOF). The GOF had a monopoly on the 1080 baits.

It was illegal for any other company to make 1080 baits, so the private companies had to come up with something different.

In 1990 ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries) developed a rat poison called Talon and offered it to DoC to spread aerially around DoC-managed lands. One of the Landcare “scientists” took up the offer – David Towns. David led the drive to drop Talon over the outlying islands which were now under DoC’s care.

In 1991 DoC dropped Talon over Stanley and Red Mercury Islands ostensibly to eradicate rats and rabbits. Talon was banned in other countries because it was known to spread through every species of wild life and stay there.

A search for dead rats after the drop over Stanley Island found more dead birds than dead rats.

Six months later, live birds were taken from the island and rat poison was found in all of them.

The Talon had behaved as expected.

Next thing DoC spread Talon on the mainland. DoC had complete authority over public land and Waikato Regional Council supplied the authority to spread poison over private lands.

Between them they could poison the entire peninsula. A 1,000 ha property in Kennedy Bay was selected and subjected to a ground-based spread of this Talon.

I asked the owner why he would spread this stuff all over his land knowing what carnage would follow and he replied: “They told me I had a possum problem and they had university degrees so they must know what they’re talking about.

“They had a mandate to control the possums on my property, a job they would do for free with their poison but if I wanted to control the possums without the use of their poison I would have to pay for the work myself.

“Possum trappers they told me might cost $30 per hectare.

“Well I didn’t have a spare $30,000 did I”.

This procedure survives to this day whenever DoC/WRC want to spread animal poison on your property. And so the poisoning of our peninsula had begun.