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Why is TbFree Poisoning Kea Habitat?

TbFree, formerly the Animal Health Board (AHB), explains:

Despite having a very low human health risk now, bovine TB is still regarded as an unwanted disease in New Zealand because of the negative consumer perceptions and adverse market reactions it could generate. High levels of TB would also cause significant production losses for New Zealand farmers….

“Controlling possums helps to minimise the risk of the disease spreading within the possum population and to livestock.  We know if we can keep the numbers low enough for long enough over large areas, we can eventually eradicate TB…

“Currently biodegradeable 1080 is the only control method that can be applied aerially. This means it can be used for quick and effective control in hard to access areas, or large tracts of land, where ground control is impractical” – Tb free website 2014


 

What do science and history say?

The Animal Health Board, now called TBFree, has no rational basis for using aerial 1080 poison to kill possums.

This was highlighted when the AHB applied in 2007 to continue aerial 1080 poisoning operations, to the Environmental Risk Management Authority:

“No research is cited in the Application that studies the dollar losses occurring from the loss of one or more export markets..Clough & Nixon (2000) conclude…a trade ban would be difficult to sustain under current international trade rules, the risk is very small and the expected value of an avoided trade ban is modest…

 

“The Application…fails to demonstrate evidence or understanding of economic research on use of 1080, pest control or Tb…this section of the application is unsophisticated, uses crude approaches to estimate even the largest benefits and costs associated with the use of 1080, lacks awareness of many pertinent economic research techniques, seems unaware of almost all relevant economic research.” – Professor Ross Cullen, Economic Expert advising the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA), 2007

 

“around 3% of all human Tb cases are M. bovis…The Ministry of Health attributes these low rates to herd testing and the widespread pasteurisation of milk…

 

 “even if bovine Tb were prevalent in cattle it would not present a real risk to human health…

 

 ”We recommend that in making its decisions, ERMA de-emphasise the importance of bovine Tb”. – NZ Health experts advising ERMA, 2007

 

the applicants have provided little factual support to demonstrate efficacy of aerial compared with ground application of 1080 as it relates to possums and Tb control…

 “the relative contributions of possums and other wildlife (particularly ferrets) to Tb infection of cattle and deer herds are not clearly defined at this time.” – ERMA Agency, 2007

 

“there is no evidence to support the suggestion that trade is significantly reduced by not having bovine Tb-free status.” – ERMA Committee, 2007

 

Localised, farm margin harvesting of all Tb-carrying species would be far more rational than broadscale 1080 poisoning, because

  • Tuberculous possums are clustered in relatively small, stationary “hotspots”
  • possums (both diseased and healthy) living in forests were found to only travel occasionally onto farm pastures, and none were found to move more than 1300m

“Tuberculosis possums were clustered in “hotspots” and identification and targeting of these high prevalence areas would make control of tuberculosis in wildlife more effective” – S. Norton et al., NZ Veterinary Journal, 2005

 “The disease shows remarkable spatial clustering…that can persist over extended periods of time…despite intensive possum control efforts…methods for the future may include…identification of spatial determinants of “hotspots” to allow more targeted population control” – R. Jackson, NZ Veterinary Journal, 2002

“operations to reduce possum numbers in Tb-problem areas would need to encompass at least 1 km of forest adjacent to pasture….

“Where the problem is long-standing and the incidence of Tb in possums is high at the forest/pasture margin (>10%), infection may already be present in the deep forest (Cook & Coleman, 1975), and control may be required further (1-2km) into forest.” – W. Green & J. Coleman, NZ J. Ecology, 1986

  • Tb is found in a wide range of wildlife, not just possums. The role of other wildlife in spreading and maintaining Tb infection is not very well known.

 

“…some deer species and ferrets may act as vectors of the disease, but their role in transmitting TB to livestock is unclear…

 “Hedgehogs, pigs, cats, sheep and goats are now considered to be amplifier hosts, and spread the disease to other species only when inspected or their carcass scavenged.

 “Tuberculosis has been recorded in a small number of stoats …Disease prevalences are unknown, and estimates of them are difficult, due to the rapid turnover of stoat populations and difficulty in trapping them…

“Tuberculosis has been identified in a limited number of feral goat populations, but none of them have been studied in detail.” –  J. Coleman & M. Cooke, Tuberculosis, 2001

 

After a TbFree aerial poisoning operation, the carcasses of all animals are left for scavengers. This includes rats, stoats, ferrets and pigs, which can all catch and spread Tb:

 

“In endemic areas, rats have ample opportunity to inhale or ingest M. Bovis bacilli during their scavenging of infected carrion, and of transmitting Tb to other species when scavenged themselves.” –  J. Coleman & M. Cooke, Tuberculosis, 2001

Feral ferrets (Mustela furo) and stoats (M. Erminea) are abundant in many regions of the country and are highly susceptible to infection with M. Bovis…the disease appears to be maintained by consumption of tuberculous carrion” – R. Jackson, NZ Veterinary Journal, 2002

“The interaction between pest species is poorly understood. For example, rodent numbers sometimes increase following possum control operations, which may lead to an increase in stoat populations” – G. Nugent et al., Kararehe Kino Vertebrate Pest Research, 2008

 

“our analysis which showed no decrease in ferret abundance at sites that have been subject to possum control” – S. Norton et al., NZ Veterinary Journal, 2005

 

“pathology indicates most pigs are infected by feeding on tuberculosis carrion…

 “Pigs are wide ranging and often forage in large family groups so whole-group feeding on a single carcass may often amplify the number of infected animals.” – T. Ryan et al., Veterinary Microbiology, 2006

 

Recent documented evidence points to human error in spreading and monitoring Tb:

 

“Twelve percent of dairy herds have 500 or more animals…High prevalence breakdowns in such herds have occurred…Movements of animals in-and-out of such herds is a plausible cause, but “stress” leading to immune dysfunction probably also contributes.”

 

“In terms of TB in Northland, there are currently seven herds…which have tested positive. A high level of TB infection has been found in young stock and there has been movement of infected calves traced to a farm south of Kaitaia…response by TBfree NZ has included…wildlife surveys to assess infection in wild animals such as possums and wild pigs. To date, 47 pigs and 340 possums have been sampled from the Awanui area and no TB infection has been found in wild animals…TBfree NZ are still investigating…findings so far show that dairy cattle sales and stock movements are very complex”

 

“Dispose of dead stock properly…don’t allow wild animals such as pigs to access open offal pits – this could result in TB transfer to wildlife”

 

“Infected herds by type at July 2013:..These figures represent a significant increase in infected herds in the North Island but also a small increase in the South Island.”

 

“Compliance: at the time of this report there are 16 cattle herds 180+ days overdue for testing. This equates to 15 per cent of the national total for overdue tests. A number of these herd owners have been in discussions with the North Island Compliance Manager as they are unable to muster their stock or they have become feral…Unregistered herds are also of concern in the Northland Region.” – N. MacMillian, Northland Regional Council Environmental Management Committee Meeting Tabled Item 30/07/2014

 

“Tb Free New Zealand says recent cases of the disease in two herds in the Rangitata/Orari area of South Canterbury were a West Coast strain…

 This confirms that the herds have become infected from bought-in TB infected cattle…

 A wildlife “survey” in the area caught 996 possums, all of which tested free of the disease.” –  A. Swallow, Rural News 2013

 

“With animal movement, in a study of cattle and deer in the Waikato district, it was found that only 10% of cattle herds were “closed”…

 “Models of this “population” suggested that the “intensity of disease surveillance” has profound effects on the ability to reduce the number of infected herds (Barlow et al., 1998). As a result, surveillance intensity was increased, and there was a rapid reduction in herd prevalence…

 “Accurately identifying all infected and non-infected animals is challenging…

 “With M. Bovis infection, particular problems are an extended pre-clinical period, some animals being unable to mount a normal immune response, and waning of cellular immunity after prolonged infection” – T. Ryan et al., Veterinary Microbiology, 2006

 

Whereas it is not even known how a possum would give Tb to a cow!

 “The mode of transmission between possums and livestock is poorly understood and difficult to study. However, dominant cattle and deer have been observed to approach semi-sedated (“sick”) possums, and sniff and mouth them. – J. Coleman & M. Cooke, Tuberculosis, 2001

 “Possum-to-cattle transmission is thought to occur when cattle investigate disorientated, diseased possums wandering in pastures close to their bush habitats (R.S. Morris, pers. Commun.) – N. Barlow, Trends in Microbiology, 1985

 

Final word from science and history- advice unheeded      

 

“This Council recognises the seriousness of outbreaks of tuberculosis in cattle, but urges that the enormous injection of funds into eradication programmes and the large expenditure on control programmes be matched by the provision of adequate resources for further research…

 

“the cumulative evidence of bird deaths is sufficiently reliable to indicate that there are significant effects on non-target organisms…

 

“the Council recommends that methods be developed for the disposal of unused baits and poisoned carcasses and that the Crown be bound…

 

“The Council recommends that the use of 1080 should not be permitted in any significant wildlife area or reserve and especially in takahe/kakapo areas, forest sanctuaries, biological reserves and national parks…

 

“this Council recommends that appropriate preliminary justification and thorough monitoring processes be a pre-requisite for further 1080 operations…

 

“control operations utilising 1080 may induce bait shyness, are only temporarily effective, and often create favourable conditions for noxious animals by reducing competition, and releasing nesting sites and feeding areas” –  NZ Nature Conservation Council, 1977

Endangered Kea harrassed by DOC

To monitor effects of 1080 poisoning, Kea are harrassed during nesting and year round. Many wear backpacks with transmitters.

Quotes on Harrassment:

“The interests of the bird come first. Birds respond to people in many ways, depending on the species, location and time of year. Disturbance can keep birds from their nests, leaving chicks hungry or enabling predators to take eggs or young…

“Intentional or reckless disturbance of some species at or near the nest is illegal in Britain…

“Disturbance is not just about going too close – a flock of wading birds on the foreshore can be disturbed from a mile away if you stand on the sea wall…

“Repeatedly playing a recording of birdsong or calls to encourage a bird to respond can divert a territorial bird from other important duties, such as feeding its young. Never use playback to attract a species during its breeding season.” – Association of County Recorders and Editors, 2014


“Do not approach nests when young are close to fledging: When the young are disturbed during this stage, they may leave the nest prematurely. Young that fledge prematurely usually do not stay in the nest prematurely despite attempts to put them back, and their survival rates away from or outside the nest are low. So when young birds are fully feathered and very alert, only observe the nest from a distance…

Be wary of nest predators. Avoid leaving tracks that can direct predators to nests. Nest predators are everywhere- on the ground, in vegetation, and in the air- and many are smart enough to watch you…

Also try not to damage or trample vegetation that could expose nests”- Cornell University Lab of Ornithology 2011


“visiting nests to check the contents necessarily results in disturbance of the individuals being studied. Moreover, investigator disturbance may increase the probability of nest predation (Elser and Grand 1993), human scent (Whelan et al. 1994), or nest markers (Picozzi 1995, Yahner and Wright 1985). Human disturbance may also reduce nest attendance or enhance conspicuous behaviour of the parents.” – N. Verboven et al., The Auk, 2001


“One potential nest cavity was visited and there was an attempt to catch the female who was perched close to the site….Four fledglings were caught and transmitters attached…There was quite significant kea activity at the top of the Gibbs track with at least six unbanded birds…Attempts were made to catch as many of these as possible with one team devoting two nights to this task. – C. Mosen, Nestor Notabilis 6, 2014


“When we were checking the nest, I got to crawl inside. It was really interesting, as the cavity was a lot different to what I expected! It was long- I crawled more than my whole body length in – and it was narrow! I had to go in a bit like superman with my arms out in front of me…

“Tomorrow, we were heading to the Hawdon Valley to check on a couple of nests and put bands and transmitters on some chicks- can’t wait!…

“to our surprise, there was a wee chick there! I say wee but he weighed over 1000g. Cory got him out and we weighed, banded, took bloods and feathers and measured him. We attached a satellite transmitter as part of Erin’s work….

“We had heard from someone that they had been near the hut and heard a Kea vocalising a lot, in a way which made Cory think maybe there is a nest up there. So out we went with some kea calls and a telemetry aerial to see if we could find any kea out there. While we were there, we also checked another old nest. Unfortunately we didn’t find anything”. – Sarah, Wellington Zoo website 2012


“Kea monitoring requires specialist skills, involving capture of kea and tagging them with VHF radio transmitters weeks or months before poison baiting. Telemetry surveys are
carried out during the risk period following the operation, on foot and from aircraft.”

– DOC Code of Practice for Aerial 1080 in Kea Habitat, 2014

“7 paired field researchers/observers per site will survey a minimum of 4 ridges each…

“over an 8 day period in mid-January. This will be timed to co-incide with fledglings leaving the nest…

“Observers will…

“capture and band all kea where possible. Associated with satellite and radio tracking of individual birds, banding will be used…

“collection and storage of blood samples at the time of capture will provide samples for other organisations…

Each paired group of researchers must therefore have combined experience in trapping, banding, blood collection and storage, and attachment of tracking equipment.”- L. Roberts, Academia 2014


“The number of experienced kea handlers has increased in recent years due to the corresponding increase in kea conservation work. The number of personnel with competent bird handling skills has made it easier to recruit EBHs each year” – P. Van Klink, Nestor Notabilis 6, 2014


“Corey Mosen revisited our survey nest sites during October and November. Here’s a quick comparison of each of the nests sites from his first visits in August/Sept…Nelson Lakes…2 nests now have 3 chicks total. Beryls nest has failed (with the loss of 2 chicks and one egg), Queen Pow Pow’s nest has been reduced from 3 chicks to two chicks and How’s nest has reduced from 1 chick and 1 egg to 1 egg and 1 chick. Pest visitation seems to be the main factor for nest failure.” – T. Orr-Walker, Kea Conservation Trust Newsletter, 2014


 [Ruru] “Although radio-tagged birds are able to provide extremely robust information on the direct impact of toxins such as 1080…this technique is limited to those species that are able to carry a transmitter…

“34 ruru were captured and radio-tagged…only 11 were known to be alive at the time of the poison operation, due to transmitter failure, predation, and 18 birds dying during a prolonged period of extremely cold weather 2 weeks prior to the operation…

Use of ‘backpack’-type harnesses…for…kereru has been restricted by the Department of Conservation following concerns over instances of harness entanglement and resultant deaths” – T.C. Green et al., NZ J. Ecology 2013


 [Saddleback] “Ten birds had tail-mounted transmitters attached and were monitored weekly. Two weeks after release, four transmittered saddleback were found dead following a week of extremely cold southerlies which brought snow to the higher parts of Boundary Stream.

Necropsies of two birds found they died of aspergillosis, a common fungal disease that can become fatal when the bird is under stress. One bird had a broken neck, but mammalian predation was ruled out. The fourth bird was too decomposed to necropsy, but no obvious signs of predation were found.

A survey six weeks after release estimated 21 birds present, giving a 57% minimum survival rate. There are five known pairs that are courtship feeding, but none are known to have attempted to nest.” – DoC Rare Bits Newsletter, 2004


 [Whio] “Survivors from last year’s release are still encountered, but the birds had transmitters removed because of weight loss problems” – DoC Rare Bits Newsletter, 2000


“The 2011 Kea Summer Survey field work was completed by an enthusiastic team of 40 experienced kea handlers…

“Both areas are integral to a larger population research project which has been run annually for three years in Nelson-Lakes (2009-2011) and four years in Arthurs Pass (2009-2012). This census work aims to establish the density and stability of kea populations in a number of key areas which are subject to different pest management regimes. The nest monitoring and tracking project will provide crucial supporting information.” – T. Orr-Walker, Nestor Notabilis, 2012


“At the start of the 2011 season there were twenty-one kea radio tagged in the Hawdon valley, Arthurs Pass, to be monitored.

Six transmitters were found to be in mortality mode (4 of which were adult breeding females). The loss of these birds significantly reduces the possible sample size of nests to monitor. Additionally, nine transmittered birds remained unaccounted for resulting in only six kea able to be followed.

“Three of these kea are adult females of which only one has been identified as attempting to breed (Queen Pow Pow). The other two females showed no indication of having active cavities or notable courtship or nesting behaviour. Nest cameras set up at the Queen Pow Pow’s nest showed that this nest was abandoned with an egg intact and this pair moved to another nest site which also did not produce chicks.

“Information gleaned from this nesting season appears to indicate that the high number of deaths of both adult and sub-adult birds may now be affecting productivity.

“A case in point is the late 2010 nesting by Mrs Moon (one chick fledged at the end of April 2011). Mrs Moon died one month later on 8 June 2011.” – T. Orr-Walker, Nestor Notabilis, 2012


“a light aircraft was used to radio track birds…Seven kea are present radio tagged in Nelson lakes- ….The three identified breeding pairs…were followed and their nest cavities identified. Out of a seven possible nest sites, three cavities were confirmed by September 2011. Cameras were set up inside and outside each nest area and images taken throughout the breeding season. Only one of the breeding pairs, Ceejay and Kelly, successfully fledged chicks as follows: Nest site 3 successfully fledged three chicks early in December 2011; Nest site 26 most likely failed due to possum predation; Nest Site 8 was found to be infertile. Unfortunately, Kelly, Ceejay’s mate, was recovered dead during the nesting period (necropsy report cause of “sudden death” -unknown)” – T. Orr-Walker, Nestor Notabilis 2012


“This research at two of the three kea summer survey sites aims to support the summer population research by following up on tracking of radio tagged kea at each of the sites and check the status of known nests throughout the breeding season.” – Kea Conservation Trust, 2011


“We stopped regularly while Franny and Brent released their pre-recorded birdsong on the jungle…

The kea was then “processed”, you know, like processed food. Out of Franny’s bag of tricks came a radiotransmitter, with nylon string to attach it, a beak-measuring device, scales and other fandangos…

Oh yeah, I was going to talk about 1080 and keas. Well the story as far as I can make out is that despite years of scepticism from DOC scientists, recent studies of mortality following an aerial 1080 drop have shown keas dying from 1080 poisoning…

One point it is always worth making is that much of the 1080 poisoning in NZ is undertaken by the Animal Health Board in its ongoing battle with TB…But whatever way this does seem to be a big problem…

Alarm bells seem to be ringing and DOC has teamed up with Landcare Research to investigate an effective bird repellent. It will be interesting to see what happens and if the planned drop in Okarito forest goes ahead” – J. Stewart, Blog, 2009


“During the breeding season (July-January) we repeatedly searched for every radio-tagged adult in our study until we found its nest, were confident it was not nesting, found its body, or concluded it had migrated out of our study area…Once it was found, we checked each nest every 2-3 weeks until it either failed or the chicks had fledged…

“We radio-tagged eleven near-fledgling chicks during three summers of our study and in three subsequent summers we flew at 2500-3500 m, in a radio-telemetry equipped fixed wing aircraft over all forested mountains within a 50-km radius of the nests.

Following the flight, we visited all of the birds on foot to see if they were alive. We assumed the birds we could not find from the air had migrated out of our search area…

“We captured and radio-tagged 39 kea which we monitored for an average of 2.5 years each. We found 44 nests in 25 sites and were able to assess the nesting success of 40 of them.”

“Eggs and chicks disappeared from 35% of the nests we monitored and at two of these nests definite sign of stoat predation was found” – G. Elliot & J. Kemp, NZ Dept of Conservation Internal Science Series, 2004


“when in the open on a river flat or above the bush line they carefully watch any large bird flying high above. To do this it is necessary for them to twist the head sideways and while in this stance all the Kea’s attention is occupied…

“The large number of band injuries were caused not by the band being put on improperly but because a band prevents normal swelling of the leg, following a foot injury.” – J. Jackson, Notornis, 1969


“At least three of my seventeen nests with chicks have been discovered by falcons…The parents chase the falcons away. Also visiting Kea are very interested in the nestlings and the parents drive them away from the last five yards of the nest with much noise. I suspect that visiting Keas destroyed the young chicks two or three weeks old in one nest…

“Some hens, if the observer sits on their promontory while they are nesting, get very excited. They fly in a zig-zag flight close over or around under the promontory, swing out 100 yards on either side and call loudly all the time, perhaps a quarter of an hour. The cock during this display remains further back…

“Many of the young cocks do not remain mated to their wives. He moves on but the hen remains, using the nest for her life…

“Other less successful hens fail to mate in their second year. Such a hen often sends much time with a hen busy building. It is possible that the young hen learns much from watching the old hen closely.” – J. Jackson, Notornis, 1963


 “July: Heavy falls of snow cover much ground and Keas feed in the forest and on the forest floor. First eggs laid…

October: Peak of laying. Adults very shy and quiet” – J. Jackson, Notornis, 1960


Please help save the kea from poisoning, harassment and harnesses

“…once in the air they play. The chick dives at her like a falcon. She rolls over and parries the blow. Then the tables are turned. They play in the gusts of a storm, swing around a spur, plunge down into the shelter of a gully and back into the wind on the turbulent air.” – J. Jackson, Notornis 1963

homepage-link-petition

The Kea, the world’s only mountain parrot, needs your help!

Playing with these big parrots, in car parks and at ski fields, is one of the best experiences NZ has to offer animal lovers. But the kea’s home, the alpine herb fields and rainforests of southern NZ, will be poisoned by the Government very soon:

“In the South Island, 23 pest control operations, covering approximately 700,000 ha of beech forest, are planned for the coming late winter and spring” – National Pest Control Agencies 2014

Cinnamon-flavoured, cereal food pellets will be spread from the air, twice. The first time they will be just flavoured cereal. The second time, they will contain deadly 1080 poison. Kea will eat the cereal baits and die. They will also be poisoned if they drink from ponds and alpine tarns where the baits lie, or scavenge poisoned carcasses or eat the dying insects surrounding the poisonous baits. It was first recognised that the government’s poisonings were killing kea in 1963.

In 2008, government monitoring of the kea began. The monitoring showed that large numbers of kea were dying.

“A total of 150 kea were monitored and 20 keas deaths resulted from consuming 1080…It is also possible that kea deaths were not detected at the other sites due to small sample size.” – DOC Code of Practice for Aerial 1080 in Kea Habitat, 2014

At one site (North Okarito) 77% of the monitored kea died. 1080 poisoning is very cruel. It causes extreme spasms and vomiting, with suffering for many hours or days.

 In 2014, the poisoned baits are to be spread

  • In midwinter (before 31st Aug), when the birds are hungry, and
  • further up the mountains into the alpine herb and tussock fields

“The ‘performance standards to reduce kea deaths’ no longer include a standard to avoid sowing open areas above the tree line…

we are planning to sow 0.15% 1080 Pellets in some open alpine areas to protect rock wren” – DOC Code of Practice for Aerial 1080 in Kea Habitat, 2014

 No bird repellent will be used. No repellent has been successful so far.

A Critical Look at Aerial-Dropped, Poison-Laced Food in New Zealand’s Forest Ecosystems

Each year, New Zealand aerially distributes massive quantities of acutely lethal, poison-laced foodstuffs into its wilderness ecosystems. The toxin most commonly used is sodium monofluoroacetate (compound 1080), an acutely toxic, oxygen metabolism-disrupting agent with very high toxicity to most air-breathing organisms. New Zealand ecological conservation officials claim that aerial poison operations are an essential strategy to protect vulnerable indigenous flora
and fauna from exotic mammalian pests, and that the benefits of aerial poison operations outweigh their risks.

This manuscript presents a critical review of the existing scientific literature on the non-target effects of aerial poison operations in New Zealand.

This review reveals that in this complex, multifactorial situation, the relevant science has been selectively interpreted, selectively studied, and moreover, left grossly incomplete in its scope, possibly in favour of non-environmental, short-term economic interests. Using the existing scientific information on non-target effects of aerial poison operations, a basic cost-benefit analysis employing a numerical scoring system was performed.

This cost-benefit analysis, which compared the potential costs and benefits to native species of aerial poison operations versus unchecked possum populations at their peak density, indicated that aerial poison operations have twice as many potential costs to native species as potential benefits, and that aerial poison operations were potentially twice as costly to native species as unmanaged possum populations at their peak density.

The potential for widespread poisoning of New Zealand’s large number of endemic and threatened/endangered omnivorous, insectivorous, and carnivorous bird species by the uncontrolled distribution of poison-laced food throughout an entire ecosystem is a serious issue worthy of international concern and immediate action.

VIEW FULL DOCUMENT HERE