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Is Using 1080 Poison an Effective and Humane Way of Killing Possums?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 2614 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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Is using 1080 poison an effective and humane way of killing possums?

New Zealand, a country known for its remote, instinctive landscape and its isolation provide a unique set conditions for the creation of plants, native birds and animals unlike anywhere else seen in the world. Ever since the European settlement, the biggest and most immediate risk lies at the feet of just a few introduced species. Possums, rats and stoats in particular continue to devastate NZ forests and the creatures that live within them. These predators are extensive throughout the country and are regarded as the greatest threat to the continued survival of our native birds. With the likes of New Zealand native brown Kiwis extinction rate had gone down from 26% to 12% by the early 2000s, New Zealand conservationist had sparked an intention on how they could encounter this. 1080p, scientifically known as ‘Sodium fluoroacetate’ was the solution. However, it stimulates a controversial debate if it should be used on possums and other predators due to its side effects. Is using 1080p the most effective and humane way of controlling this issue?

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New Zealand separated from Gondwana (ancient super continent that broke up many years ago) around 65 million years ago. Due to the geographical separation and the lack of land predators at that time, New Zealand birds evolved unique characteristics. The characteristic of flight was not required to escape predators, so many native birds such as the kiwi and Moa adapted to these conditions by developing a large body size and loss of flight. This example of adaptation is an evolutionary process and occurs through natural selection. This is where an organism ie Kiwi becomes increasingly well suited to living in its habitat by possessing an advantage in trait that will enable the organism to live in a particular environment and increase chances of survival. However, an issue comes to this process of adaptation. The environment in New Zealand has changed greatly over the past 1000 years and has negatively impacted New Zealand birds by adapting poorly. This is predominately due to the human settlers who colonised NZ many years ago and that brought in the introduction of mammals. This in turn lead to significant damage in NZ forest and wild life. So as a way a rebuild the birds population status, 1080p was introduced and used by conservationist workers.

1080 poison, also known as the synthetic form of Sodium fluoroacetate is a compound that contains sodium, fluorine, and two oxygen carbon atoms. The fact that it can be made in a synthetic version means the it is made with natural chemicals from poisonous plants which are then used to manufacture the poison (far more vigorous and kills). The solid form of sodium fluoroacetate is dominantly used as the bait products because of its high-water solubility. The example of its use shows when a predator consumes the product, the sodium (Na+) dissolves within the body and the fluoroacetate, which transfers to fluorocitrate (toxic) is left in solution.  The toxic chemical affects the function of Krebs Cycle – which is the metabolic pathway that processes converting food into energy for normal cell function. When this function finally reaches to the point of where the body stops, this is due to the sufficient amount of energy cells. Based on the predator’s breed, herbivores generally die of heart failure and carnivores are likely to die due to respiratory failure.

The aerial 1080 control had been dominantly favoured to be utilised in operations. Although ground control can be used as ‘bait’, aerial control has the effective aspect of operating the bait over a vast span of uneven terrain, especially in forests to control pest like possums. Particularly, over past years when there are large quantities of seeding in forests, obstructive factors like possums must be dealt very quickly and effectively. This can’t be done with ground control. Ground control is too much cost ineffective and time consuming due to its unsuccessful rate. On the other hand, helicopters are used to deploy the 1080p baits over rugged terrain, also covering a large amount of land mass whilst the process. If aerial 1080 poison is operated successfully, the operations can reduce possums and other pest by a whole 95%, effectively in rugged and uneven terrain. There is a clear and valid scientific evidence that aerial 1080 is very effective at killing possums, rats and stoats and increasing populations of native species.                           

Here shows the evdience of aerial operations provding a cost effiecient successful process. This process is capable of covering areas as large as 46,000 hectares per operation. And comparing the economic scales to ground control, this method is much more cost effective and affordable. Also the average sowing rate declined significantly from over 30 kg of 1080p bait per hectare in the 1950s to under 2 kg of bait per hectare today. An aerial operation can cost as little as $12-16 per Ha.

Sowing rate of 1080 baits have declined significantly since the 1970s  

Retreievd from  http://www.1080facts.co.nz/1080-bait-and-delivery.html                          

The overview of the 1080 poison is used significantly to eliminate infected pest that cause a threat to NZ native animals and industries, in efforts to control population of pest like possums. This ‘bait’ is used highly by DOC (Department of Conservation) and Animal Health Board (TBfree NZ). So relatively, 1080p has no concerns towards these groups and they look forward to utilising this product. TBfree NZ had stated that the poison would not harm people as the substance degrades in soil and water. In relation to chemistry, 1080 in water is highly soluble so it dilutes easily especially effective in obscure concentration in large span of water. In soil, there are elements where it controls the activities of the 1080, which eventually can impact the duration of it being degraded. Both the degraded process results with 1080 decomposing to harmless compounds. John Cumberpatch, the head of DOC 1080 operations, job is to essentially put NZ threatened species to safety from stoats and possums. He states, “The science isn’t perfect—it never is—but we conduct a residual trap catch after every operation, and we know that the knockdown of pests is huge… And it lasts longer than we once thought. We used to think that it was only two or three years, now it looks more like four or five years.” Evidence has gone to show that a single aerial drop of 1080 can be effective as eliminating 98% of possums, will have a similar rate with other pest.

On the other hand, where people disagree with the use of 1080. To many, using 1080 poison as its main source of weapon to handle pest like possums is controversial. A witness to a possum poisoning had stated, “From about four hours after poisoning until death all lethally dosed possums exhibited spasms involving the limbs or body. Possums vocalised during spasms, tremors or seizures. Vocalisation was loud and prolonged. (Squeaking, gasping and gagging noises were also frequently heard during retching and terminal breathing.) … continuous body rolling; trembling; and rigidity of the entire body.” Also, 1080p not only targets its main threats like possums, but it also unintentionally kills NZ animals. It has been recorded that birds reported to be poisoned by the cereal baits include the weka, tomtits, morepork, and grey warbler. Additionally, other animals that had been killed by the poison bait includes kiwi, saddleback, pukeko and kokako. Many anti organisations know that the population control is gruelling to manage and so by taking action, these group urges the government to intervene by funding the money and research to a more humane alternative than letting these animals to die a slow, cruel death. All in all, research has shown the possible negative side, that this poison is deadly and threatening to the non-target animals.

After thorough research and complete review, I can firmly make a judgement that 1080 poison aerial operation is an effective way of controlling NZ possums. With the fact that a well-managed operation can be as potent as reducing possums and other pest by a whole 95% in large areas and beneficial in inaccessible country. Having the capability of being an effective use on rugged terrain and its impact on the environment helps cease my judgement. Aside from all this, arguments that held against the poison is understandable with their fight and rights about it being humane. However, I believe that because so many NZ native animals species have an extinction rate so low, time and action is crucial and must be taken as soon as possible to avoid this issue. Therefore 1080 poison becomes a pivotal and effective method at this point.

Further going through valid research and information, 1080 operations must be carried on by supportive groups DOC and TBfree NZ. I think the action that needs to take place immediately is that these groups predominately centre their focus on aerial application rather than ground control. This in turn reduces the errors of non-targeted animals being poisoned and experiencing agonizing deaths. Due to New Zealand’s geological landscape features, ground control application would only result in negative consequences as it is largely labour intensive, time consuming and cost ineffective. 



This site is a valuable source for a range of information, overview, facts and science behind 1080. However, this site does come across as bias as it is fundamentally focused towards the positive side of 1080 and has supporting organisations like DOC and Forest & Birds. Aside from this, this site is certainly useful and effective when gaining an understanding about 1080 and also when obtaining the pros about the poison.


This site provided me with reliable information coming from a reliable source. Not only does It discuss about importance of why 1080 is used but additionally also explain the benefits gained from aerial application. It also gives links to videos to give a further in-depth insight with facts and statistics. Portraying that this source is supported by the New Zealand Government show it is reliable and valid.


This article is from one the biggest New Zealand online news company. It provides an insight into a non-bias debate about 1080, whether if it is overall harmful or useful. With information containing the pros and cons, this helped me with my research and also aided me in forming my opinion and recommendation. However, I must take into account that this was an article that was published in 2007 and much of the situation could have improved or been misleading until this day.



          1080facts.co.nz: What is 1080? Retrieved from http://www.1080facts.co.nz/overview-of-1080.html on 26 Aug, 2018

          forestandbird.org.nz 16 Apr 2018: Frequently Asked Questions about 1080. Retrieved from https://www.forestandbird.org.nz/resources/frequently-asked-questions-about-1080 on              16 Aug 2018

          nzherald.co.nz 24 May 2011: The 1080 poison debate: What, why, how and associated risks. Retrieved from https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10457526  on 18 Aug, 2018 

          sciencelearn.org.nz 8 July 2010: Native bird adaptations. Retrieved from       https://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/resources/1162-native-bird-adaptations  on 11 Aug, 2018

          safe.org.nz: 1080. Retrieved from https://safe.org.nz/issue/1080 on 11 Aug, 2018

          scoop.co.nz: 1080 poison: science and facts. Retrieved from http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/SC1105/S00067/1080-poison-science-and-facts.htm on 24 Aug 2018

          www.nzgeo.com: 1080. Retrieved from https://www.nzgeo.com/stories/1080/ on 28 Aug 2018

          ospri.co.nz 14 Sep, 2017: GROUND VS AERIAL. Retrieved from https://ospri.co.nz/assets/Uploads/Documents/Possum-Control-Ground-vs-Aerial.pdf  on 27 Aug 2018

          “Why New Zealand needs predator control”. Video uploaded by Department of Conservation on 22 Jan, 2018


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