Image for NZ: The horror of wild animal poisoning

NZ shares with Tasmania so much ... including Gondwana and the use of the poison 1080 ...

In New Zealand, where the people had become accustomed to their forests teeming with hikers, hunters and trappers, it came as a shock when their government decided to replace hunting and trapping with an animal control policy using poison.

Not just poison - where once there were traps - but blanket poisoning from the air.

In 1991 NZ’s Department of Conservation (DOC) spread Talon, a poison bait made by ICI, over hundreds of hectares of private property on the Coromandel.

I was living next door.

Talon baits are laced with brodifacoum - an anti-coagulant rat poison - known to poison any creature which eats the poisoned rats and mice.

To protect their owls the release of this poison into the wild is banned in the UK.

After this 1991 poisoning there was a noticeable reduction in the number of local owls. I asked how this could be beneficial to the owls or any of the other species which would eat the poisoned meat.

DOC replied by quoting statements from their scientists who came up with the answer that the birds would benefit from a predator-free nesting season right after the poisoning and thereby rejuvenate any depletion of native bird numbers due to the poisoning.

This raison held sway until 2009 when Iris Jacobs “discovered” that the tiny birds may breed two or three times in a season but the medium-to-large-sized birds may only breed once in a year and that the rat numbers will be up again by the following breeding season so any change in breeding success in the bigger birds is unlikely to relate to rat numbers alone.

In 1994 DOC dropped 1080 baits in our valley.

A group of locals observed closely. Baits landed in clumps and directly into streams where the green dye and poison washed out of them in a few hours. We noticed enormous gaps on the ground where there were no baits at all.

The wild pigs were the last creatures to die after tidying up all the poisoned carcasses. Their suffering was shocking to witness.

Wild pork had formed a big part of my daily diet for the previous ten years. Today live pigs are walking round with traces of all kinds of poisons in them.

DOC showed us a draft report of their 1994 operation which revealed that half of their ground monitoring had taken place over a large area where no baits had landed at all.

DOC showed us a map with parallel grid-lines showing the flight paths of the helicopter. We showed them where the gaps were on the ground below these grid lines. The GPS machinery keeps the helicopter on a parallel path.

The map shows where the helicopter flew but you cannot see from the map how randomly, if at all, the baits have landed on the ground.

When DOC staff monitored the evenness of spread they used a method invented by one of the scientists of NZ’s Landcare research centre. My neighbour (Tom Steel) wrote to him and received a copy of Morgan’s bait-spread monitoring method.

From the description in their Draft report Tom showed me how the DOC staff had failed to follow one of the basic procedures of Morgan’s method and their results were at least 100% out.

We took a possum count a month after DOC’s monitoring to find the same number of possums as before the poisoning took place.

Having pointed out some of the areas in which the 1080 drop had failed to fulfill its promise DOC’s draft report of the 1994 Waiau 1080 drop was never published.

DOC did however release glowing reports of the operation’s success to the media but we knew the truth. As the years passed we noticed that the true effects of their poisons was never published.

Tom made contact with a number of the University and Landcare scientists involved in 1080 research. From Mike Meads he received a just-finished 1994 report which identified the danger to insects of poison dust emitted from aerial bait delivery.

The scientists were only too pleased that someone outside the government departments was showing genuine interest in their work. Because of his experience Tom was able to talk on equal terms with a wide range of experts in wild animal control.

From the very first report we read it seemed that the 1080 researcher had discovered either nothing at all or an awful lot more than was ever released to the public.

It is very difficult to accurately measure populations of species in the wild, or changes to an environment when visiting for the first time.

Researchers go out and spend a few days in the bush before they return to their labs. Sometimes they don’t even leave their labs during the course of a study. All too often the numbers they are counting relate to only one or two of the many factors which affect the figures. The figures they come up with can only ever provide a rough indication.

Nevertheless their figures are quoted to the tenth or one hundredth of one percent and policy is made on the assumption they are completely correct.

Possum numbers, for example, are estimated by sampling over a huge landscape and then averaging out the figure for the entire area. If the possum figure is 4.9% no control is deemed necessary whereas if it is 5.1% a poison drop becomes mandatory.

In the research papers we studied relating to the effects of 1080 we saw again and again the name of Charles Eason. Eason had been doing 1080 research longer than anyone else. Poison research into 1080 poured out of Landcare Institute and Charles Eason found himself at the head of a growing group of colleagues in Research and Development (R and D) whose job it is to provide advice to government on the poisoning of wild animals.

Meads’ report on the poisoned insects was never published, in fact two of his colleagues were commissioned to make their own studies which turned round Meads’ findings. It is only through Tom’s interest that the dust danger to insects has become public knowledge.

In 2007 when NZ’s Environment Risk Management Authority made their inquiry into the use of 1080 they called upon advice from 200 different R and D scientist researching the effects of 1080 in New Zealand.

This business of R and D has been steadily growing. In the 2016 budget NZ government gave an extra two-thirds of a million dollars to DOC’s R and D which now enjoys an annual budget of $13 million. Apart from a little money given to a private company called Good Nature, government has put no funds into the Research and Development of Traps. Practically all of the year’s $13 million budget will be spent on toxins.

Despite all the possibilities that modern technology can bring, no animal trap design is being done in NZ. All the scientific talent funded by NZ’s government is focused on doses and mixes of well-known poisons and watching how various animal and bird species react to the different brews of poisons.

Once they have established a lethal dose for a certain species they put their minds to how best to deliver the fatal dose; as a capsule, a paste or a weather-proof bait or, better still, a bait which you can drop from the air.

A group of these R and D people formed a company called Connovation for the manufacture and sale of new animal control products. The Connovation team has been producing more animal poison products each year for approval for release from NZ’s Environment Protection Agency (EPA).

By 1994 they had invented and put into production a form of encapsulated cyanide which they call Feratox.

A few years later they released another possum killer using the poison Cholecalciferol. This product is called Feracol.

New products such as Diphacinone followed, manufactured in Auckland and tested in the hills of Coromandel. Connovation today manufactures close to a hundred different animal control products using a dozen different poisons.

By the time Kerr made his terrorist threat to poison babies Connovation was set to make a lot of money if ever 1080 use was banned in NZ.

1080 has yet to be banned and Connovation is still waiting in the wings with its products champing at the bit to replace 1080.

In the meantime the government’s animal poison factory (ACP) which has always made the 1080 baits had begun making its own Brodifacoum (Talon) baits and its own Cholecalciferol baits both now sold to DOC under the Pestoff label.

After Kerr’s 1080 poison threat Fonterra had to test tens of thousands of baby formula samples. It was the very same R and D personnel who, like Kerr, had experience with and access to the raw 1080 powder who were given the task of this testing. Who else was qualified? Practically all of Fonterra’s cost of $20 million went to these R and D 1080 testers.

R and D, the science behind 1080, forms by far the biggest portion of the cost of NZ’s aerial poisoning operations.

If ever NZ decides to change its approach to wild animal control it will be a long haul back to a poison-free environment.

Not only will they have to deal with the long-term effects of these poisons but the skills and instincts needed for hunting and trapping will be rare gifts, not easy to revive in a hurry.


The birds would benefit from a predator-free nesting season right after the poisoning and thereby rejuvenate any depletion of native bird numbers due to the poisoning.

Eric Spurr Landcare research centre does the birds.

Iris Jacobs did a 2009 study over 3 years on the Coromandel stating that the rat numbers are back up for the breeding season following poisoning and the birds any bigger than a tom tit are unlikely to have made any use of the rat-free season before.

Today the live pigs are walking round with traces of all kinds of poisons in them.(Hauraki Vet Services) found all kinds of rat poisons in wild pig.

David Morgan invented the bait-spread monitoring method.

Each scientist found himself coming up with some kind of monitoring method specifically for some particular species and it became known by their name perhaps - the Morgan method.

Possum monitoring was in the hands of Warburton. Birds was Eric Spurr. Elliot has became the rat expert. There are experts in all aspects of animal poison distribution. For many of them there is no such job outside NZ. No-one else is calling on their expertise.

Download those documents:

*John Veysey lives on the Coromandel Peninsula on the North Island, New Zealand. Since first observing government-funded animal poisoning operations in his area John has spent the past 25 years looking to find any tangible benefits to the environment, long or short term, from this method of wild animal control. After decades studying the “science” behind NZ’s animal poisoning policy John has uncovered numerous benefits but none of them, he says, have been for the environment.