Noxious vs Wild - Animals

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
Control of wild animals is necessary but expensive - my perspective, my contribution.

Submitted: August 27, 2016

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Submitted: August 27, 2016

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The New Zealand government has announced an all-out campaign to completely eradicate pest animals throughout the country and is supplying the funds to do so. In a way this is turning things full-cycle and is difficult for many New Zealanders, let alone conservationist-cum-animal-rights people worldwide to get their heads around.

Sure the Monarch of the Glen, Watership Down, Bambi and their ilk will make most thinking people align with those who lambasted the fool dentist who shot Cecil the lion and that is fair enough, personally I too was disgusted with him, but the New Zealand situation is unique and needs to be explained.

Save for a tiny bat, New Zealand flora and fauna evolved without any mammals. Mammals are a diverse lot, carnivores, herbivores or omnivores, which mean that introduced mammals consume either New Zealand indigenous flora or fauna. Now that may not be important to many, but it does affect the biodiversity, especially for plants that developed without having to endure browsing, and the loss of plant species filters down the ecological chain. There is also an economic impact. Technically possums are marsupials, not strictly mammals, but they have adapted well so their population ballooned and is a good example to discuss.

Introduced from Australia to create a fur trade, these herbivores quickly became omnivores, robbing birds’ eggs and chicks from the nests of our indigenous bird species. Possums are also carriers of tuberculosis which is able to easily transfer to domesticated livestock, particularly cattle. Should tuberculosis be found in exportable animals, we would lose our place in the international market place, so those pretty goggle-eyed animals pose a risk to the economy. Several of our indigenous tree species are particularly palatable to possums and those trees often die from over browsing. In a forest a few trees die? Well, a forest grows in tiers, the canopy, immature canopy, pole stage, saplings and seedlings. Other introduced animal such as deer, pigs, goats, sheep, hares and rabbits take out the saplings and seedlings, leaving nothing to take over when possums kill off the canopy and immature canopy trees. This causes erosion, which effects our water cycle. New Zealand is well known for pristine water.

Erosion is a natural process where gravity, water and weather cause mountains to become plains on a geological scale. Introduced mammals accelerate erosion by browsing off vegetation and by walking across eroded material, moving rocks and stones downhill. Shingle slides into water courses, blocking them to form temporary lakes which burst free causing massive downstream damage.

Those furry little Watership Downers creatures multiply quickly, three of them eat as much grass as a sheep! So no farmer wants them on their pasture and pasture that is expensive to keep fertilized and profitable. Foresters do not like rabbits either because they dig up or browse of newly planted seedlings, and even larger plants! Weasels, stoats, ferrets and feral cats were introduced to control rabbits, but rabbit numbers continued to climb because the easier prey was indigenous birds and whatever was in their nests. These little predators also decimated endemic lizard populations and unique large insect populations! So it is the stoats, ferrets, possums, cats and weasels that are being targeted but the New Zealand government.

When I was but a lad and recruited to train as a Forest Ranger, all of these pest introduced mammals and marsupials were officially classified a noxious animals and the policy of the day was to exterminate them. It was the Forest Service’s job to do the extermination, so it was a part of my job description to carry out poisoning, trapping and shooting – not as a blood sport but as required by government. The name of the game was to protect our indigenous flora and fauna. We were trained to be skilful and humane and for sure I saw no wilful cruelty displayed. There was a Hunter Training Camp at Dip Flat where values were instilled and hunters were incentivized to shoot accurately. Two rounds of ammunition were issued per animal killed, but a token from the dead animal had to be produced for the ammunition to be issued.

So here we are now at full circle, with government funding the destruction of pest mammals and marsupials. Full circle because when the hunters had done a good job by lowering noxious animal numbers, with fewer animals left to hunt, the cost per animal destroyed climbed steeply, so the cash-strapped government legislated that no longer were they noxious animals, but instead they are wild animals, and the policy change saw all the government hunters losing their jobs. Recreational hunters, sportsmen and meat hunters were going to take up the task of animal control, with a measure of success, but not to the standard the old forestry guys would want. Slowly the animal numbers increased!

This new policy though is not attacking the larger pests; deer, pigs, thar, chamois, goats or wallabies but poisoning operations may wipe a few out as secondary kill.

These days as a land owner, I am responsible by statute for controlling rabbits on my property, while the Regional Council monitors possums, ferrets and stoats because of the TB relationship associated. But if I see those animals on my property I will shoot them. And, shock horror, I shoot cats! People come out from town and release their unwanted cats, most usually beside the river, below our house. Simply put cats, devastate our indigenous fauna! Do I like shooting cats? No I do not, but in our landscape, the only good cat is a dead one! And I’m not anti-cat, people gain much pleasure from them.

Cat fanciers often tell me that their cat is a good hunter, but I have seen a dozen or so rabbits grazing in a paddock and a cat walk right among them padding its way to and fro.  The cat took no notice of the rabbits, and they took no notice of the cat! When released into the countryside, domestic cats quickly turn feral and to survive have to become hunters of indigenous birds.

Back in the day, I used dogs to help me reduce the pig population in the forest. I could not hear the barking of the dogs above the evening bird chorus of mainly bellbirds! Go to the same spot today and you barely hear a single bird! The culprits are stoats, ferrets, possums and cats.

This is why we need to get rid of them! But wait and see, once the cost of control becomes too much for government to fund, their enthusiasm will wane!


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