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Possums, stoats, rats…

October 23 2018 by Christina McCabe

Possums, stoats, rats… Mammalian predator control in New Zealand is unreservedly a wicked problem. A difficult, messy and expensive problem involving competing reasonable goals with conflicting agendas and moral opinions. As long as the ethical disagreements remain, there’ll be no solution that is perfect for everyone. Attempts are merely better or worse than the next. How do we decide what is better or worse? Usually we make these judgments without even thinking about it, as a result of criteria inherently sustained, also known as our morals. With so many different ethical views and criteria on the table, which should we follow when making decisions about control methods?

The utilitarian’s morals? The basis of these ethics is: the greater good wins. Possums, stoats and rats far outweigh the precious endemic birdlife they feast on, so they are the majority and deserve to live, right? However, the utilitarian considers the entire ecosystem and potential consequences on the infinite sum of wildlife, plant life and effects on humanity – clearly trumping a few abundant species of mammal. If a species is under threat, it adds to the weight of the argument; the impact on dependent young and other issues are also considered. If we follow this ethic, we might suggest anything which achieves pest eradication, including sodium fluoroacetate (1080), is the right course of action.

Do we follow the deontologist’s morals? These ethics hold firm beliefs of what is right and wrong – more interested in the actions than the consequences. For example, you might believe it’s wrong to interfere with genetics, including bio-engineering possums to reproduce only males, eventually breeding themselves out of the game… trapping and toxins like 1080 start to look like ethically better options. There is also a duty involved with doing the right thing: as humans brought the pests here, do we now have a responsibility to get rid of them? Or is the principlist’s moral criteria the one to follow? The one that says no living creature should be harmed and one is not worth more than another. This ethical model might propose we walk away from attempts to control the invasive predators extending their domain in New Zealand’s forests, gradually collapsing habitats and ecosystems. Principlist ethics also say it is wrong to mistreat DOC staff who are only doing their job, and you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

We may never completely eradicate the furry foes now calling New Zealand home, but we certainly won’t make a lot of progress toward representing and satisfying everyone’s moral ground if we can’t unite. Let’s find a different criteria for deciding which methods are better than others: a tailored ethical framework for this wicked problem. It’s going to require open dialogue and open minds to get there. When we pose the difficult and passionate questions or opinions about 1080 to each other, we need to be willing to listen to the responses – all of them.

Christina McCabe
Designer, Student (BSc Environmental Science)

If you would like more information on 1080, what it is, its history in NZ, why its used and what are the risks, we have a Fact Box with the details on Page 16

- Christina McCabe
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  • QLDC Rat Trap

    It just so happens last week because some twit decided it was great fun to hang up two dead possums on a cross on a what we believe to be a council-owned property on Antrim Street adjacent to Hammys track. Not only was it visually disgusting it was also clearly a health hazard.
    Being good citizens we emailed the QLDC and followed up with some pictures. The response from the QLDC was in short, not their problem. Thinking that this was not quite correct as was plenty of health and safety considerations, we thought the Mayor and councillors might be interested in what or in this case, not, on how council employees address matters bought to their attention. Their response to date was even worse than their employees (no surprise) zero.

    Posted 24/10/2018 1:15pm (9 months ago)


    Here we have this outfit, DOC , raving on about lead pellets in shotgun shells destroying the ecosystems, whilst they continue to pour thousands of tons of highly poisonous 1080 into the environment, and telling us that it is the best thing to do.....the best thing to do would be to put a bounty on rats, stoats, ferrets and possums, and we would soon get rid of them....DOC dont have any concept about "thinking outside the box"....here is an idea.....catch 5 Himalayan Tahrs, insert a microchip in each one, let them go, and then offer $200,000 prize to hunters who recover each of the 5 chips.....total cost $1,000,000, and within a short time, every American hunter will be in NZ trying his luck, along with many NZ hunters....problem solved without all the costs of helicopters, and the expense that goes with it.....or is that too hard????

    Posted 24/10/2018 1:16pm (9 months ago)

  • Jane Scheib

    Quite agree Christina that there should be debate on the topic of which are the best methods to address this 'problem' and 'war' that DOC are waging. The problem for a start is that DOC are not open to discussion on an open mind basis - what they decide goes without consultation with those that are footing the bill - NZ ratepayers and farmers.
    Many sensible suggestions have been put forward by people who know the land and what is really happening but they are falling on deaf ears. If you want to find as much information as you can handle, go the the Ban 1080 and Eyewitness 1080 and other Facebook pages that are full of all the reasons why we have a country covered in the poison 1080 that is banned in most other countries around the world and why DOC do not want to listen - who would want to give up the huge gravy train that they have manipulated with the help of unscrupulous people involved in the poison business. DOC have some great spin doctors in their department supported by several other government departments involved in this never ending poisoning story - the sooner we Ban 1080 and start implementing more trapping and culling methods that have been mooted, the better for New Zealand and its ecology, birds and animals.

    Posted 24/10/2018 11:18pm (9 months ago)


    I'm tired of the anti-1080 crowd saying that trapping is an alternative to 1080. There is absolutely no way trapping and culling will achieve the results that 1080 currently gives us. Do you know how quickly these breeds of mammalian predators multiply? I'd like to see how many tourists come to NZ to see our forests full of rats, stoats and possums after 1080 is banned.

    Posted 25/10/2018 9:53am (9 months ago)


    OVER IT, you seem to agree with DOCs methods of of problem solving.....if there is a problem, there is a poison to fix it.

    Problem: Wilding pines Solution Poison them
    Problem: Rats Solution Poison them
    Problem: Possoms Solution Poison them
    Problem: Stoats Solution Poison them

    Not everyone agrees with their thinking. There are better ways.

    Posted 27/10/2018 8:21am (9 months ago)