New Zealand Battles 30 Million Rat Population With Pest Poison Dropped from Air

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By Vittorio Hernandez | January 30, 2014 11:04 AM EST

Reuters
An itching mouse is seen in this undated handout photo. Researchers have found specific nerve cells responsible for itchiness, a discovery that could lead to better treatments for skin conditions. Experiments on mice show they have nerve cells that convey only an itch sensation -- contradicting common wisdom that itch and pain are closely related.

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Ben, the rat that the high-pitched boy Michael Jackson sang about would surely not be happy at the massive action being undertaken by the New Zealand government to eradicate the estimated 30 million rats living in the country.

The New Zealand Herald reports that the Department of Conservation will use the pest poison 1080 to kill the rodents that threaten the country's endangered endemic birds.

The winged creatures include the great spotted, brown and tokoeka kiwi, kaka, kea, whio or blue duck, mohua (yellowhead), kakaraki (orange-fronted parakeet), rock wren, long- and short-tailed bats and even giant snails.

The $21-million species protection programme, called Battle for our Birds, targets to protect 25 million native birds over the next five years. Conservation Minister Nick Smith disclosed details of the programme on Wednesday night at his yearly address before the Rotary Club of Nelson.

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He said there is an urgency to implement the programme because beech masts are anticipated to drop this year a record million tonnes of seed in autumn expected to attraction 30 million more mice and tens of thousands of stoats which will eat the seeds that germinate in spring and deprive endangered birds of food sources.

Mr Smith said the programme will increase the use of pest control in 35 forests to protect 12 native species by pre-feeding, improving bait quality to avoid crumbs that are attractive to birds, using a chopper instead of a fixed-wing aircraft distribution, GPS and developing repellents for non-target species.

He said 500,000 more hectares would be treated with 1080 in 2014 and 50,000 more hectares would be added annually over the next 5 years.

While some residents are apprehensive over the air deployment of the pesticide, Forest & Bird, the largest conservation charity in New Zealand, favoured more use of 1080.

Kevin Hackwell, advocacy manager of Forest & Bird, said, "Without this increase in predator control, there will be a real possibility that we will lose a bird species this mast year. Ground control operations carried out by Forest & Bird branches around the country are already reporting increased number of rats. That means the stoats will follow."

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(Photo: Reuters / Ho New)
An itching mouse is seen in this undated handout photo. Researchers have found specific nerve cells responsible for itchiness, a discovery that could lead to better treatments for skin conditions. Experiments on mice show they have nerve cells that convey only an itch sensation -- contradicting common wisdom that itch and pain are closely related.
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