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1080: Poisoning Paradise - The Great New Zealand Ecocide

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Dallas Boyd
Dallas Boyd

If you don’t have a strong stomach, maybe this documentary is not for you. Especially if you are an animal lover. On second thoughts - watch it anyway.

"Poisoning Paradise” a documentary currently doing the rounds, but due to it’s graphic nature, has not yet been accepted for television screening… which is interesting because a terminally ill hunter is currently threatening a suicide protest if this documentary is not made public. (Something his wife is - quote - “not taking lightly.”)

What is 1080? It is an indiscriminate poison used to kill unwanted animals – in this case, it is being used to kill possums. Symptoms of 1080 poisoning include (dog example): "…restlessness; increased hyperexcitability; incontinence or diarrhea; excessive salivation; abrupt bouts of vocalization…sudden bursts of violent activity…seizure, with hind limbs or all four limbs and sometimes the tail extended rigidly from their arched bodies. At other times the front feet are clasped together, clenched or used to scratch frantically at the cage walls… kicking or 'paddling' with the front legs, squealing, crawling, biting. Extruded tongue and/or penis, rolling eyes, grinding teeth. Breathing is rapid but laboured, with some animals partly choking on their saliva… it is without question that 1080 poison inflicts great pain and suffering on affected animals. Aside from the physical pain endured over the many hours before death, the terror, fear and anxiety felt by these animals is unimaginable.”

Carnivores take up to 21 hours to die from the poisoning, herbivores, up to 44 hours. There is no known antidote.

Apparently New Zealand uses 86% of the total world use of 1080. In many other countries the substance is banned entirely. For some reason this little fact reminds me of the time my history teacher told the class that the Americans dropped more bombs on Vietnam during that war than were dropped during the entirety of both World Wars I and II. It’s not a good feeling.

The Department of Conservation, Regional Councils, and ERMA (Enviromental Risk Management Authority) do not want to stop using 1080 poison, firmly believing that the trick to eradicating possums once and for all is to continue with aerial drops of the poison.  My aunty informed me that Mt Taranaki is expected to receive a 100 ton drop of non-toxic bait designed to get the possums used to eating the stuff. This will be followed up with a 200 ton drop of poisoned bait.

When you see the documentary footage of wekas, keas, or other native species pecking away at the poisonous pellets to break them up to eat them - including even crayfish fighting over pellets underwater - or when you see the images of birds and animals dying in slow agony, then I guess we are expected to justify this torture with the old adage “you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs” or better yet, this is a small sacrifice in the name of the greater good. But this is being described as “Ecocide.” The poisoning does not end with the death of one creature - but spreads and spreads and spreads. Eels, dogs, birds, pigs, anything that eats a dead carcass will receive the same fate. And what happens when it gets into our waterways?

There are those who suggest a better idea would be to hunt and trap possums the old fashioned way, and to encourage people to do so by offering payment for the beautiful, soft possum fur (which by the way, is a fur that can keep you extremely warm due to the unique hollow fibre of the hair which acts as a mighty fine insulation). However, we wouldn’t want to piss off PETA and Pamela Anderson by advocating fur now would we? Although I’m fairly sure they have a bigger issue with animal cruelty… In fact, maybe I’ll drop the folks at PETA a line… We’ll get Pammy down here to set things straight.

Possums are a pest. We know this. In its pure state, before Europeans started arriving here with their pockets full of rats and syphilis, New Zealand was a country like no other. Native birds and plants thrived here, who are unique only to this tiny pocket of the world. They flourished in a land without need for natural defenses against predators – because there were barely any. If you or I killed a Weka, we would be up for a fine of up to $30,000 - but D.O.C are killing them all the time.

Today we fight to protect our feathery little fluff balls (other wildlife too) because they are too easily picked off by cats, dogs, weasels, and possums (who can eat the eggs). There are genuine reasons to get rid of possums. They spread T.B. and infect cattle. They strip native forests. They are not supposed to be in this country. But 1080 is an extremely damaging “solution.”

Currently I am living overseas and it is a credit to our country that every single foreigner I meet lights up when they hear I am a Kiwi. Time and time again I am told how beautiful New Zealand is and how everyone dreams of visiting our country. “New Zealand” they say. “Now that’s paradise.” Unless you have been overseas and experienced such compliments, then you can have no idea how proud it makes you feel. But right now, I feel nothing but deep shame for my country. 

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