Monday, 16 September 2013

Will the New Zealalnd Ornithological Society stand by and watch as rare birds are driven to extinction by one man's vanity conservation project?

I thought it would be worth asking a question of you, the New Zealand Ornithological Society.

I’m sure you are all aware of the Antipodes Islands, home to four birds, endemic only to those islands and nowhere else.

They are the Antipodes parakeet, unusual, in that like the kea, it can be a predator, Reischek’s parakeet, can also be a scavenger, the insectivore Antipodes snipe and an omnivore pipit.

There are also mice, French mice it would seem, who have been there for around 200 years. They will have had an impact on the island ecology, but the actual changes are long past and have by now morphed into what is an altered but stable ecosystem where none of the birds are at risk.

You will no doubt be aware of a wealthy Wellington businessman’s vanity conservation project, “The Million Dollar Mouse”. The object of this is to eradicate the mice using methods developed by DoC’s Island Eradication Advisory Group; the group that successfully eradicated bald eagles from Rat Island in the Aleutians. To ensure the complete eradication of mice, there will probably be two drops spreading tonnes of small mouse sized brodifacoum baits to achieve a sufficient field density to ensure there is at least a bait in the range of every mouse on the island.
At such bait density, small baits would be quickly picked up by the parakeets as well as secondary poisoning to parakeets scavenging on dead mice and other creatures. Insects without vascular systems can load up on brodifacoum without obvious ill effect and so could enter the snipe and pipit food chain in much the same way as happened to North Island dotterels at Tawharanui Regional Park at Auckland. A strong case can be made that these rare birds are at greater risk of eradication than the mice.  

What is more, at this stage I am aware of no suggestion or proposal to “ark” a proportion of the population, to hold them out of circulation on the island for more than a year till the extremely persistent brodifacoum residues have reached sufficiently low levels to allow their release, much as is being done by the Australian authorities on Lord Howe Island. But even if there is an ark proposal put in place, what was a genetic base of several thousand birds being reduced to a few hundred leaves them exposed to issues of inbreeding. Further, having a small genetic base leaves the remaining stock vulnerable to any single avian disease spread by far ranging sea birds; it could wipe them all out.

I am unaware of any action being taken by the New Zealand Ornithological Society to protect these birds. It would seem a shame, almost a reflection on you if, on your watch, we lost them all to satisfy the whim of a single attention seeker.

I would be grateful for any views you may have on this.

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