Photo: Anthony Behrens
Part 1: The players
Photo: Anthony Behrens
This number refers to a year 31 years into the future that may or may not coincide with the number of times the Earth will have revolved around the sun since a man named Jesus was nailed to a wooden cross and died. Many people believe that it is impossible to return to life after dying. 2050 is the year that the last National government decided would be a good target date to get rid of all of the rats and stoats in New Zealand. Many people believe in miracles.
Photo: Anthony Behrens
This is the number that has, in recent years, divided a nation. It’s so divisive that I’m often in two minds about it myself. 1080 is the name of a poison that is usually dropped from helicopters onto the hills and mountains of impossibly 100% Pure New Zealand in an effort to kill possums, rats and stoats. It’s very good at this - usually killing nearly all of the animals it aims to kill. That’s right - nearly, but not actually, 100%.
Possums are targeted by 1080 because they eat our forests and the occasional bird or egg. Rats and stoats are targeted because they eat lots of the country’s unique and increasingly rare birds, bats and insects. Other poisons are used as well, some of them are much more toxic than 1080, but they have names that aren’t numbers and are hard to spell. 1080 does kill some of our precious birds but not in any statistically significant way and the benefits of controlling predators seems to far outweigh this unfortunate loss.
There are many ways to divide a nation, but when it comes to the subject of 1080 and whether we should or shouldn’t be dropping it all over the place, I’m going to split Aotearoa into three groups.
Photo: Anthony Behrens
I’m just guessing here because I’m not a statistician, but I’d say that the largest group in the 1080 debate is made up of the people who don’t really care about it at all - in other words, the Couldn’t Give a Shit Brigade (CGSB). Most New Zealanders either trust the government and its scientists to do the right thing, or don’t care about bloody Kea because Kea eat sheep and there will always be one in the local council’s aviary to poke sticks at. As for worrying about poison, many in this group love Black Flag and Roundup and probably just see 1080 as a great way of keeping something that vaguely resembles nature at bay.
This group may be disinterested in One Thousand and Eighty, but to the other two groups, the CGSB have the most potential. They are the people waiting to be convinced...the swing voters.
I’ll call the second group The Pros.
Before I tell you about this bunch I’d better come clean - most of the time I am pro 1080, but occasionally I like to saunter amongst the other groups in the belief that it’s good to be open minded. My being pro-ish may mean that the following description is biased, but I like to think I am fair minded too.
The Pros are a good-looking bunch of people. They have straight, white teeth and drive cars that run on non-dairy yoghurt.
Pros come from a wide swathe of New Zealand society. They tend to be either men or women and are often either Māori or Pākehā. Many are hunters. Many would like to be hunters and fancy the idea of bringing home some bush meat, but don’t like putting their hands inside the steaming warm cavities of deer or pigs. Many Pros, but not all, are conservationists and see 1080 as an efficient and effective tool that could save many of New Zealand’s native birds and other fauna from extinction.
Some Pros don’t give a rat’s backside about birds, because they’re farmers and 1080 is a really good way to get rid of the possums that infect their cows with TB.
The third and loudest group is the one I’ll refer to as The Antis. Many Antis believe that 1080 is part of a plot by the United Nations to force people to move to the cities by killing all free, wild and edible animals - this subgroup of the Antis are often characterised as bonkers by people who are pro 1080, but in response many Antis have a number they like to throw around to justify their conspiracy theories. The UN must have lots of agendas, but the one of interest to many Antis is the ominous sounding agenda named “21”.
Many Antis believe that 1080 kills EVERYTHING. I’m reasonably confident that EVERYTHING is a very big number.
This may be a pretty big scientific claim, but I reckon that if 1080 did kill EVERYTHING, our native forest would look like Mars. Although this may be an unfair comparison as it appears that Mars, like many humans, may potentially have some bacteria nestled away in its crevices somewhere. Please take this postulation with at least one grain of salt as I’m not an astrobiologist.
Some Antis are very passionate about their cause. Defending the world from the UN often leads to high emotions and threats of violence against well known UN operatives - staff from the New Zealand Department of Conservation. It’s not uncommon to come across some very high-spirited and heart-felt opinions in New Zealand’s backcountry huts where Antis and Pros often find themselves sharing...ahem...beds.
This impassioned plea for a solution to the Great 1080 Debate was left in a Visitors Intentions Book by a well-meaning Anti who had stayed in the hut the night before I did:
“What a crap job “DOC” Department of Cunts have done with 1080, you bastards along with National you have just rooted this country I always carry a switch blade just incase (sic) I come across DOC or a government worker while tramping, watch out you pricks.”
Although not a National voter, I’m picking this “tramper” probably wasn’t a member of the Green Party either. The anti-government sentiment has strong Libertarian overtones, but it could be a little unfair of me to suggest the writer is an ACT supporter.
Many Antis are conservationists who just don’t think 1080 works. Antis aren’t necessarily liars or switchblade-carrying psychopaths. I just think they are wrong. Probably. Well...pretty much definitely. Perhaps.
Alright. I know. SPCA isn’t a number. It’s a bunch of letters that represents an organisation that actually cares about how animals feel. In a world of almost infinite animal cruelty and exploitation, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals attempts to do just that. It’s a great brand that most decent people would find very hard to criticise while they eat their battery farmed hens.
The other week, the SPCA caught my attention. In an article on its website titled “1080 - what is it, and what can be done about it?” these bloody do-gooders came up with the only argument against 1080 that I can find any sympathy with.
In the vague and often confusing nutshell of its argument, the SPCA believes that poison is cruel and we shouldn’t use it to kill animals. The release only really talks about 1080 and not the dozens of other poisons we cheerfully chuck around the country, but we’ll forget about that for now.
So why does this concern me? Sadly it all comes down to maths. You see as well as the very reasonable suggestion that causing any animal to suffer a prolonged and agonising death-by-poison is a no-no, the SPCA offered a couple of humane solutions to the problem of saving much of our native fauna from death by loss of habitat, starvation, evisceration and strangulation.
The SPCA seems to be asking people like me to do the work it doesn’t want 1080 to do. It’s a bit hard to tell explicitly from the release, but as well as some sort of gene therapy solution, it seems to be suggesting that New Zealand can trap its way out of the extinctions that would follow a ban on 1080. This would require New Zealand to come to grips with another complex mathematical concept - LOTS AND LOTS. I've got a fairly strong hunch that it would take LOTS AND LOTS of traps, trappers, money and time to carry out this work.
As I tramped the rugged mountains of the northern Ruahine Range the other weekend, I pondered what this could mean. As I removed maggot infested rats, weasels and stoats from the place of their usually instant death, I wondered “Is it possible to humanely trap enough of these innocent little creatures to save the birds of New Zealand and what would it take if it was?”
Quantum Pest Control or Schrödinger's Stoat.
Experiment: Place a box beside a fast-moving river in the middle of more than 50,000 mountainous hectares of deep, dark forest. Inside that box place a spring-loaded trap and a battery-farmed egg. Set the trap and make sure the entrance is clear. Leave the box there, and walk for two days back to the carpark before taking a two hour drive home to watch Flowers on Netflix (5 Stars). Return in a month and look inside the box. The question scholars will be trying to answer by doing this is: Is the Whio alive?
Stay tuned to possibly find out as I take you around the difficult, beautiful and remote Potae trapline.
At the time of writing...
there were rumours that the SPCA had come to their senses:
Had a positive meeting with SPCA yesterday. They told me that their position is to encourage acceleration of R&D for non-toxic pest control methods, but in the meantime accept that 1080 use is necessary. They will review website, FB etc to clarify this
Kevin Hague - Forest and Bird
However as of February 1, 2019 the SPCA's website had no new wisdom to give - they still think stoats and whio can learn to live together in some sort of cartoon harmony.