Outline for a statement regarding aerial-1080 programme in New Zealand by Tony Orman

The Self-Poisoning of New Zealand by Name and by Nature

– New Zealand markets itself as “clean and green” and “100% pure”.

– Food from farming and other primary industries makes up about 70% of New Zealand’s exports. The “clean and green” boast is a marketing strategy to convince New Zealand’s export markets that the exported food is “100% pure.”

– In addition it is used to attract tourism dollars to New Zealand on the promise of pristine, pure wilderness.

– Farming and tourism are two major components of the country’s economy.

– But the boastful branding is looking shaky. A couple of years ago it was revealed a survey said 60% of New Zealand’s rivers were unfit for swimming. On the UK’s BBC “Hard Talk” Prime minister John Key was given a torrid time over the state of rivers relative to the “clean, green” claims. Key looked distinctly uncomfortable.

– But rivers are only part of the fragility of New Zealand’s “clean and green” branding.

– The future is looking uncertain for this country’s iconic wildlife and ecology and this is due to the government’s disregard for and ignorance of the biodiversity and the overall environment. A major threat to the country’s biodiversity is the widespread use of poisons to combat portrayed invasions by introduced wild animals.

– Government agencies funded by public money are spreading toxins on a broad landscape basis by air. One such toxin 1080 (sodium monofluoroacetate), was first developed as an insecticide but in reality it’s a wide spectrum poison. It is at the centre of a raging public controversy in New Zealand and Australia.

– 1080 is spread primarily to combat a marsupial possum “pest”, alleged to be a rapacious devourer of native flora, and accused of spreading bovine tuberculosis (Tb). 1080 is also used to kill rats said to be preying on and annihilating native birds.

– But as the story unfolds, undistorted by bureaucratic spin, it is not the rats or possums that are the threat to our ecosystems. It is a poison “industry” which has become a “gravy train” for bureaucrats.

Introduced Species

Possums and rats were introduced – yet so were humans and their domestic animals. The first introduction of humans was allegedly around 1300 with a migration of Pacific Islanders now termed Maoris. The Maoris brought the kiore rat to New Zealand approximately 800 years ago. Then came Europeans and they brought the Norweigan and ship rat plus other animals such as the marsupial brush tailed possum from Australia for its fur, several species of deer and other biota – even bumble bees.

In a nutshell, the case against the possum and rat are flawed as is the destructive use of the broad spectrum 1080 poison:

• The manner of spreading 1080, especially from the air, is indiscriminate and with the potential to cause long term ecological damage, which is becoming more evident now.
• The policies of the Department of Conservation (DOC) and TBFree NZ (previously the Animal Health Board) have very sound data to back them and are guided more by an entrenched anti-wild animal prejudice.
• The New Zealand TBFree policy and priorities on bovine Tb are based on misconceptions as to causes of TB spread.
• 1080 is unethical/inhumane as a slow acting, non-selective poison.
• The poison regime is economically not viable. It is a threat to New Zealand’s “clean, green image” export edge.

But bureaucracies roll on like juggernauts. They try to avoid admitting past policies may have been in error. Furthermore, to any critics they will pull out sheaves of distortions of ecological reality and “facts” to justify their policies. The use of aerial-1080 and other devastating toxins such as the island eradicator and rodenticide brodifacoum are a case in point. The public are fed irresponsible propaganda to ensure their ignorance.

Paid-for or “Aligned” Scientists

The New Zealand Department of Conservation (DoC) employ scientists to come up with conclusions that will be deemed favourable to the pro-poison policies (aka policy-based evidence-making.) If a scientist comes up with the unwanted realities, the system goes to work, discredits their work and pillories them.

One example was the late Mike Meads, a respected invertebrate scientist, who in 1992 after studying the effects of an aerial drop of 1080 in Taranaki, predicted that continued 1080 airdrops over New Zealand forests will destroy much of the food supply of ground eating birds like the kiwi.

Mike Meads warned that because 1080 wipes out many leaf litter-consuming invertebrates and micro-organisms, the litter fails to properly decompose and builds up at an alarming rate. He was quoted as saying there was already an amazing leaf build-up in some lowland forests because without these organisms, after 1080 aerial drops, the leaf litter was not decomposing. Complicating the matter was the unusually long life cycle of many forest invertebrates, e.g. cicada has a 17 year life cycle, weta two years. One air drop of 1080 can wipe out generations of cicada larvae and they and wetas were important in the kiwi’s diet.

DoC refused to publish the papers, perhaps because at the time the $50 million budget for aerial-1080 was about to be awarded. In order to cement their case, DoC went to six peer reviews hoping to discredit the Meads’ findings. They attempted to block him from presenting his paper to a Royal Society seminar then made this scientist redundant.

Meads was perturbed about the cavalier, indiscriminate way 1080 was spread from the air. He said, “Widespread aerial distribution can only have serious long term effects on forests and forest life with enormous risk of destroying the ecosystem.”

Mike Meads was no ordinary scientist. He was regarded as an authority on some of New Zealand’s rarer invertebrates, including the threatened giant wetas, he published more than 100 papers in many New Zealand and overseas journals and delivered papers to international conferences in Australia, UK and USA.

But Mike Meads wasn’t the only scientist to warn of the adverse ecological effects of 1080.

In 1989, DSIR scientist Peter Notman found many insects, particularly subsoil leaf litter feeders, were highly susceptible to the systemic and contact poisoning effects of 1080.

In the year 2000, a paper to the 53rd New Zealand Plant Protection Society by four scientists, highlighted the effects of sub-lethal (not fatal) doses to birds, namely, mallard ducks. The research said that 1080 was rapidly absorbed and distributed to the heart, sketetal muscle and noted that “exposure to sub-lethal doses may in some instances, be sufficient to have long term detrimental effects.”

1080 has “endocrine disruptor” properties where the toxin, taken in a sub-lethal dose, affects the testes with infertility induced in males.

Do the long term detrimental effects include inhibiting/nullifying reproductive ability? On a National Radio Morning Report discussion on 1080, Dr Charlie Eason, a Landcare Research Toxicologist, was quoted as saying studies on animals have shown repeated exposure to 1080 can affect heart and testes.

Studies of rats, mustelids, birds and skinks have provided evidence that 1080 is a reproductive hormone disrupter – reference 2008 “NZ Listener” article by Dr Sean Weaver, Victoria University.

The irony is that DoC, entrusted to safeguard native bird populations, is guilty of killing birds itself by direct or secondary poisoning, disrupting their breeding and in the case of birds like kiwis, tomtits, bush robins etc., killing their food, i.e. invertebrates!

Anti-exotic Phobia

Why does New Zealand have a hatred of “introduced” species. It’s all very selective. Humans are introduced, so are cows and sheep and other farm animals. But wild animals seem fair game!

In 1958, Dr William Graf, a Californian Professor of Zoology, arrived in New Zealand to study the wild deer situation as Hawaii was considering introducing deer for sport. Conflicting information about New Zealand “pest” deer herds prompted the Hawaiian Board of Agriculture to send the scientist to study the situation first-hand.

William Graf viewed the New Zealand scene often in the company of departmental officers. In his report following the visit, Dr Graf wrote that there existed in New Zealand an “anti-exotic animal phobia, to an extent that much of the public as well as many government officials do not and cannot view the situation from an objective perspective.” The bureaucracies were incensed and attacked Dr Graf – again a case of harassing or bullying anyone who dares to challenge official policy.

Dr Graf has not been alone in defining the “anti-exotic animal phobia”.

Another was New Zealand eminent ecologist the late Dr Graeme Caughley, who worked for the New Zealand government’s Forest Service and became an esteemed, world respected ecologist but left to work for Australia’s CSIRO. In later years in his book “The Deer Wars” and at international and New Zealand seminars where he frequently delivered papers, Dr Caughley explained that New Zealand’s vegetation has been heavily browsed for millions of years. Browsing whether by moas and other birds (e.g. kokaho, pigeon) or wild deer, possums and other animals, was a part of the ecosystem.

The demise of the moa after its browsing for many millions of years, saw New Zealand’s vegetation enter an “unnatural” state. “The sudden termination of that regime of defoliation (i.e. browsing) with the extinction of moas would necessarily have led to marked changes in species composition and the formation of aberrant plant communities,” said Graeme Caughley.

Credible Science Rejected

In short, New Zealand’s vegetation had developed over many millions of years under intense browsing by herbivore birds including moas and others. The vegetation as early European settlers saw it in the 19th century was not natural nor was it original, because the browsing component had been largely removed with the extinction of the moa by about 1600 through the efforts of Maori migrants. The settlers saw the opportunity to introduce animals for game or fur.

Once deer, possums, and other wild animals were established, it is probable the vegetation-and bush-became more like its original state of the moa era, because browsing was restored into the ecosystem.

But back in 1930 government held a gathering entitled “The Deer Menace Conference”. This is what gave birth to the “pest” myth about wild animals. Government department annual reports continued to feed the myth. Phrases like “depredations of the hordes”(of deer) and “deer infested areas” littered the writings. Bureaucratic empires sprang up around the wild animal “pest problem.”

This theory was never seriously challenged until the American wildlife biologist Thane Riney stepped into the New Zealand scene joining the Internal Affairs department. He came with an open, scientific mind untainted by the assumptions of the 1930 Deer Menace Conference.

In eight years, Thane Riney produced 25 published scientific reports, a high rate jealously scorned by his bureaucratic colleagues. Riney’s research left its mark. He had examined “undisturbed” deer and possum populations at the remote Lake Monk, in a rugged wilderness called Fiordland, and found that left alone, deer and possum numbers stabilised to low levels and did not explode out of control as the departmental propaganda maintained. Then a much less complex paper showed there was little or no relationship between areas of erosion-prone country and the areas of highest deer numbers.

In 1958, Thane Riney no doubt somewhat frustrated by the bureaucracy in New Zealand, resigned and went to Africa to do his research. Some years later, in 1967, Thane Riney reflected on those years with the Department of Internal Affairs and then the New Zealand Forest Service: “Unfortunately the level of competence and understanding in silvicultural (exotic forestry) matters is in no way reflected in the dealings with, or their policy toward exotic animals. This it seems to me, is due chiefly to several botanist policy-makers who have had no experience with the growth of plants in other parts of the world where browsing and grazing animals behave exactly as in New Zealand. They do not know what animals are capable of doing and what they are incapable of doing in the way of ruining forests or how to measure the effects that animals do have. Most of their recommendations are based on what the botanists are afraid the animals might do, instead of what the animals actually have done after 50 to 70 years of acclimatisation. Several of these botanists are in high administrative positions and a policy based on the simple fear of the unknown is often offered to the public as proven fact.”

Seventy million possums??

Dr Graeme Caughley’s path was to follow that of Thane Riney’s. After a similarly frustrating time with the wild animal haters/exterminators, Dr Caughley headed overseas and eventually became chief research scientist and Acting Chief CSIRO, Division of Wildlife Ecology, Canberra, Australia. Dr Graeme Caughley was the author of over 130 scientific papers, articles and books – a prodigious output.

This “anti-exotic animal phobia” as Dr Graf termed it (and as was encountered by both Thane Riney and Dr Caughley) is still prevalent today within the Department of Conservation – the department with the responsibility for assessing wild animal situations and for spreading poisons.

The spreading of poisons is done on the erroneous assumption that there are 70 million possums spread evenly over New Zealand based on a dubious road kill count and extrapolation exercise. For a couple of decades they peddled in this propaganda that there were 70 million possums. There probably never were, even at the peak of the possum numbers. Experienced possum trappers estimated something more like 20 million to 25 million figure. Bear in mind that the marsupial possum has one joey, which spends a lot of time in the pouch, and does not breed more than once each year. The possum’s valuable fibre, fur and meat (for the growing wild-caught pet food industry) make it a sought after resource for New Zealand. Not one to waste.

DoC was told by a senior Landcare Research Scientist in 1994 that they were in gross error over the possum figure. Graham Nugent told a DoC “possum pest” workshop the 70 million figure was the “back of a cigarette packet calculation“, that the possum was “not a rapacious consumer of foliage” and that even 70 million possums would eat only 15% of the New Zealand forest’s daily foliage production.

The bureaucracies ignored Graham Nugent.

Playing Possum

Some facts on possums:-

• Possum numbers are much higher in marginal country and along lower bush edges where possums will “graze” pasture than in forest.
• Possum numbers in rugged country are usually “controlled” by the rigorous environment especially climate. In inclement weather, natural mortality of possums may be as high as 40 percent.
• Beech forest in New Zealand’s mountains does not, by nature, support high wild animal numbers.

These realities seem unrealised by DoC and TBFree who frequently use the excuse to top dress with 1080 based on the farcical “70 million possum” figure or the “it is remote country” excuse. But if possum populations are low and stable, then the dropping of 1080 is not only pointless but at the same time it is ecologically threatening, destructive of bio-diversity, and a gross waste of taxpayers’ money!

Bovine Tb

– Possums are demonized as spreaders of bovine Tb.
– OSPRI and Tb-FreeNZ (previously Animal Health Board) was charged with the responsibility for reducing Tb incidence. But the bureaucracy has gone about its responsibility in a flawed way attacking possums and top dressing vast areas with 1080 in a “cut and come again” approach to its responsibilities.
– New Zealand does not have high Tb rates. Currently about 0.3%, it is miniscule compared to UK countries with 5% and higher.

A New Zealand Treasury Working Paper “Coughing Up for Tb control” produced in 2000 raised serious doubts about the National Pest Management Strategy. The report said, on the likelihood of a trade ban because of Tb, that “the risk is probably very small”.

The paper also addressed how the Tb is spread; suggesting that Tb was spread by transport of infected animals. Subsequently movement of stock has been identified as the major cause. Ferrets may be a wildlife vector but as carnivores, are little affected by 1080.

Scientists have told TBFree NZ that their “poison possums” policy is totally wrong.

In 2001 Otago University scientist Dr Griffin said that New Zealand’s pest management strategy narrowly focused on “killing possums and skin tests” and was not the solution to the Tb problem.

The skin test Dr Griffin referred to involves a 20% error rate. The alternative blood test is almost 100% accurate. But TBFree continue to use the skin test to test farm stock. Critics of 1080 have pointed out that bureaucracies don’t want to solve the problem, i.e. by using a flawed, error prone test, Tb will continue to be spread with new outbreaks of the disease. Thus bureaucratic empires and well paid jobs around bovine Tb “control” will continue too.

Cruel Poison

– 1080 is a cruel unethical poison
– 1080 is a slow acting poison, non-selective, and taking 24 to 48 hours or more to kill an animal
– Dogs go through agony in dying from 1080 poison. So do wild deer and farm stock such as horses, cattle and sheep

A most bizarre aspect to all this is that 1080 is a direct affront to the claim of ‘clean and green” used to promote exports. The potential is that markets are likely to ban New Zealand exports if the country’s 1080 practices reach foreign shores. One pet food manufacturer using possum meat, had export orders to Japan abruptly stopped because of disclosure on TV of New Zealand’s mass 1080 poison programme.

New Zealand (just the size of the state of Colorado) uses over 90 percent of the world’s manufactured 1080 poison. At current rates of sowing that is around two tonnes of pure technical grade 1080 being applied per year.


Bizarre contradictions abound. The government recently proclaimed it would step up its 1080 programme in order to protect native birds from “invasive” hordes of rats. A government minister described rat numbers as of “biblical proportions”.

But all 1080 does is within a few short years (or less in some cases) generate massive explosions in populations, by disrupting predator-prey relationships and the food chain’s equilibrium. Research has shown the rats that inevitably survive a 1080 drop, thrive with lower food competition and ability to breed up quickly with at least four litters per annum, each comprising a dozen new born more or less. Within three years rat numbers increase to three times their original level. Stoats preying on rats thrive and similarly explode. Predators, such as stoats, have been shown to switch prey depending on numbers and the whole food chain is put out of balance.

Birds, directly or indirectly, die from 1080 either through ingesting toxic baits, preying or scavenging on poisoned prey (the latter termed “secondary poisoning”). The morepork (native owl) and native falcon have both suffered high losses due to 1080. The native mountain parrot, the kea, a curious jester by nature, has had populations severely cut by 1080.

The poison, acting as an insecticide, kills insects vital to the ecosystem. Those such as native bees are essential to pollination, and others are a vital food source to insectivorous bird species. 1080 effectively breaks the backbone of the native forest ecosystem by impacting on invertebrates at a rate of around 50% according to Mike Meads 1992 insect study.

Bird populations have been monitored only by small numbers tagged. Kea numbers have suffered so much from 1080, the bird is now endangered.

A news item (January, 2015), reported:- “The $12 million campaign last year dropped 825 tonnes of toxic bait at sites including Kahurangi National Park on the northwest tip of the South Island, where DoC staff were monitoring a population of 39 rare rock wren in their alpine habitat research site. DoC staff have now reported that 25 of this group of birds could not be found.”

The DoC spin doctors went to work in a typical cover up blaming unseasonable snow falls. A usual tactic is to attribute bird losses from 1080 to predators.

A conservationist, Bill Benfield, devoted a whole book to the 1080 fiasco (“The Third Wave” by Bill Benfield, published by Tross Publishing, New Zealand) and its ill-conceived policies and erroneous claims.

Meanwhile, government pumps out propaganda sometimes aided by a few scientists who are intent on keeping their jobs intact. They feed the public the myths and the flawed claims of “doing something to save our iconic native birds”.

But there is now a growing realisation that government and its attendant bureaucracies have lost the plot in their obsession with 1080 poison and with its own vested interest in a 1080 factory and ongoing sales of the poison. Groups in opposition to 1080 have grown in numbers out of all this and the level of social concern and protest is increasing.


Why then does New Zealand persist on such an illogical course of ecological insanity?

• Bureaucracies prop up the myth with propaganda financed by taxpayer money simply because they don’t want their future existence endangered. Again a bizarre aspect is the 1080 factory-depot at Whanganui in the North Island, which is government owned. Animal Control Products is a State Owned enterprise charged with returning a profit.

• The aerial-1080 drops are killing the wild native bird life and the invertebrates that scientists like the late Mike Meads were concerned about. New Zealand is killing its bio-diversity which by international agreement it is charged with protecting.

• 1080 by its nature is not just an animal poison – it is an ecosystem poison.

• New Zealand continues to poison its bio-diversity and inevitably in time, its false “100% pure” claims.

• The end result can only be disastrous both economically and ecologically.

Tony Orman, a former town planner, is a semi-retired journalist, author of some 24 books mostly on the outdoors and has had a close association with the New Zealand wilderness for over 60 years – ironically the same length of time that 1080 poison has been in use within New Zealand.