Pests down, birdsong back in Tararua Forest Park

Department of Conservation —  29/08/2012

Pest numbers are down and native birds are beginning to bounce back in the Tararua Forest Park north of Wellington following an aerial 1080 pest control operation in late 2010.

The operation, coordinated by DOC and Animal Health Board (AHB), aimed to restore forest health and boost native bird populations, as well as protect Wairarapa cattle and deer herds from bovine TB.

Intensive monitoring undertaken by DOC, the AHB, Landcare Research and Greater Wellington Regional Council before and after the operation has shown significant drops in pest numbers and increasing populations of some native bird species.

New Zealand parakeet/kākāriki

Although still early days, Dr James Griffiths of DOC said that signs for some bird species were promising. “Counts have shown that rifleman, whitehead and kakariki have all increased following the operation, compared to the non-treatment area where no 1080 was applied,” he says.

These species are all able to breed quickly but are also very vulnerable to predation. “In this respect they are like canaries in the coalmine and can give us an early indication if pest control is working.”

A decrease in possum and rat numbers, which have stayed at low levels for the two years following the operation, is also encouraging says Dr Griffiths. “We are making a major investment in monitoring to assess the long term results of this aerial 1080 operation on a range of predators. If we can keep predator numbers down it gives native bird populations an opportunity to breed successfully.”

Rifleman and mistletoe

Stoat numbers are also tracking at low levels, but we haven’t detected a significant change as they were at low levels prior to the operation. If stoat numbers had been high prior to the operation we would have expected to see a significant drop now.”

The operation was part of Project Kākā, a 10 year DOC programme aimed at restoring the health of a 22,000 hectare belt of the Tararua Forest Park stretching from Otaki Forks to Holdsworth in the Wairarapa.


“As we collect more data over the 10 year term of the project the effect of 1080 on forest birds and pest animals in the Tararua Forest Park will become clearer. We may also start to see positive changes in the bird counts for slower breeding species such as kākā.”

Rat, possum and stoat numbers will be controlled every three years in the Project Kākā zone through the aerial application of 1080, with the next operation scheduled for spring 2013.

Project Kākā aerial pest control efforts are also being supported by community volunteer trapping at Donnelly Flats. It is hoped that over time sustained pest control in the Tararua ranges will allow for rare species re-introductions such as whio, robin and kiwi.

29 responses to Pests down, birdsong back in Tararua Forest Park


    Great news. I have been tramping up in the Tararuas for the past 35 years or so. I can remember how there used to be no undergrowth of anything other than massive amounts of suplejack, the trees had been munched down to with in an inch of their lives and there was not one bird to be found or heard day on day. The 1080 drops have certainly made a huge difference, and it is exciting to see bird life returning over the years. I have an interest in plants so the changes have been substantial in terms of regrowth and flowering.
    But just to throw something in the mix, I once went down to Karamea. Speaking to locals I found out that the trapping and bating of stations is done by local people as a part time paying job. This eliminates the need to have aerial drops. An area of the park is set up as charged entry ( Honeycombs caves) as part of the Oparara Trust. Its an interesting concept and an example of thinking outside the box.

  2. 24/01/2013 at 11:10 pm

    How much time did it acquire you to compose “Pests down, birdsong back in Tararua Forest Park � Conservation blog”?
    It contains loads of great knowledge. Thanks, Brett

    basil graeme 23/01/2013 at 8:57 am

    I was interested to see that west Australia manages 4 million hectares of habitat to protect native wildlife using 1080. This includes aerial dropping of Bait as well as ground operations

    Tom McMurtry 01/11/2012 at 10:38 am

    Unlike other countries, New Zealand has no native ground mammals which is why it can be used more here than over sea’s.


    By the way your comment “half-baked list” really hurt my feelings Ian.


    Hi Ian. To address your points as you made them.

    1. Even if there was no alternative you consider workable that in itself is not a sound reason to use 1080.

    2. I’m sure Saddam doesn’t much care what you think either. You still haven’t answered why only one company in Alabama makes 1080 and why New Zealand uses almost all of it. What do we know that no-one else does and why do most countries regard 1080 as a chemical weapon.

    3. If morality doesn’t concern you then that worries me

    4. Robins benefit?A quote from Dr Jo Pollard, BSc (Hons), PhD (Zoology)

    “In 1996, 43% of one group of robins, and 55% of another group, vanished within two weeks of an aerial 1080 carrot operation at Tahae, and dead robins tested positive for 1080.”

    5. Most New Zealanders would know that they are mammals – many native.

    6. 70% was a figure that came up in an article that I read some time ago. It certainly was not “just plucked out of the air” as you suggest I thought it was a DOC article – I may well be wrong as I can not relocate it.. What is the DOC accepted figure?

    7. Yes a gut shot deer dies in agony and no true hunter finds that acceptable. Hunters generally, in my experience, respect,their quarry although I accept there are plenty of scumbags out there. I don’t think that one justifies the other as you seem to suggest.

    8. Sorry if I offended you with the comments like “man up” however if you addressed the questions when they were asked rather than focusing on red herrings I would not have made them.

      Ian Gill (DOC) 24/10/2012 at 1:43 pm

      Hi Mike:

      1. 1080 works, until there is a “better” alternative then it is not likely to be dropped.

      2. Saddam is of course dead and can’t think…and… as I said…NZ is one of the very few countries that can control predators using 1080 because we don’t have a range of native mammals to contend with that other countries do… you will have to ask other counties if they regard 1080 as a chemical weapon.

      3. Mortality does worry me – particularly the mortality caused by rats and stoats.

      4. the 1996 study showed that unscreened carrot “chaff” was a killer and it is the main reason why DOC went to cereal baits. Subsequent study shows much lower mortality coupled with population boost for robins when rats are poisoned because nesting success improves compared to non-treated areas. However, when we are talking about rat removal then we are also talking about good operational timing, and that is important.

      5. There has been Zero NZ human mortality due to 1080 aerial operations… one death back in the sixties was due to a person eating a large amount of poison jam-bait which had been stolen.

      6. did your figure come from this study?

      7. agree

      8. I’m sorry too, if my ‘half-backed” comment offended, I could have chosen better words… however it was important to first clear up the fact that 1080 does not destroy birdlife across the landscape as you suggested (not a red herring).


    Hi Ian. You say that you have not avoided anything yet you address a throwaway comment and ignore my questions re:

    1. The classification of 1080 internationally as a chemical weapon
    (Saddam certainly thought so).

    2. The morality of causing such a huge amount of pain and anguish to living breathing mammals.

    3. The fact that DOC admitted killing Black Robins with 1080.

    4. The fact that New Zealand uses approximately 90% of the total production of 1080 – what do we know that nobody else does?

    5. Why is DOC using on the Project Kaka video images of a magnificent stag and saying international visitors can view our wildlife when deer are one of the target species of 1080 drops. I believe the mortality rate for deer in a 1080 drop at current coverage is at least 70% – all of which die in agony.

    I appreciate your attempts to educate me Ian but I would prefer that you man up and address the questions above. If you want to keep avoiding them then this discussion is pointless.


      Mike – 1080 poison is used by Department of Conservation in NZ to protect native wildlife and their habitats by killing possums, rats and stoats – there is no other technique that can do this on a landscape scale. In relation to this work I don’t really care what Saddam thought. Nor do I buy morality arguments that can’t present a single viable working alternative. In addition, the robin research actually shows significant potential benefit from the use of 1080 for robins. NZ is one of the very few countries that can control predators using 1080 because we don’t have a range of native mammals to contend with. Yes, there is a deer bykill, DOC has always acknowledged this, but your figure of “more than 70%” is plucked out of the air, the reality is that hunters still enjoy their sport, the wild venison industry still operates and you forgot to highlight that a gut-shot deer dies in agony. In my view there is room to improve 1080 use in relation to deer hunting, particularly with the “foodbasket” concept in mind, but, comments like “man up” and a half-baked list that does not represent the real world isn’t really the way forward.


    Hi Mike, if we take your cage suggestion – put in a kiwi with a possum trap and a 1080 bait then what will happen every time is that the kiwi will get trapped and not poisoned.


    My cage suggestion – how do you reach that conclusion??? If you put 1080 in with them the little buggers will almost certainly die. How is that unscientific??

    Some individuals of some species??? So are you saying that some unique species of bird and some individuals of some other species are in some way immune to 1080?? And you reckon you are coming from a proven scientific position. No wonder DOC is mismanaging New Zealand


    I haven’t avoided anything, Mike. I just wanted to first clear up the fact that 1080 does not destroy birdlife across the landscape as you suggested. Incidentally, your cage suggestion further suggests that you do not have any scientific information backing your claims. Yes, DOC’s research does show that some individuals of some species might die, but it also shows that some populations of species can benefit from 1080 use.


    Ever heard the term comparatively Ian. Also no matter how extensive the dump and how intensive it is you won’t wipe out the birds and animals from all surrounding areas. If you doubt 1080s ability to kill birds then try putting some in a cage with a few Black Robins – that’s if DOC hasn’t killed the rest of them all already. I believe it is a scientific fact that DOC admitted killing a few of them with 1080.

    Interesting to see that you have avoided the questions by attempting to go on the offensive Ian. Why don’t you read the questions I asked again and then attempt to answer them. Your avoiding and attempting to divert attention from the issues is pretty sad for a representative of such an important organization.


    Actually, Mike, it is your comment about the complete destruction of birdlife that is in doubt. How is it that you now say birds “recover quickly”? First you claimed that there were no birds alive following 1080 then you claim that the birds recover quickly. How about providing some science to back up that claim?


    Also I would like your comment on the use of the magnificent stag on the propaganda video for project kaka and how “international visitors can enjoy the wildlife” when one of the main aims of 1080 use is to wipe out those magnificent animals specifically. Seems very dishonest to me.


    Your convenient conclusion is not correct. All the response you provided proves (it definitely does not qualify as “evidence”) is that the birds recover more quickly than the mammals from mass slaughter. That is not overly surprising given their shorter gestation periods and better mobility. You have dismally failed to address the morality of the use of 1080 or the fact that is is classified as a chemical weapon internationally.


    Yes, Mike, I did read your comment. You went for a walk in the bush behind Raumati and said that 1080 had completely destroyed the birdlife. I have provided evidence showing that birdlife has not been destroyed at the site of one of NZ’s longest running 1080 possum control programmes. Your observation may be right, but your conclusion isn’t.


    Oops meant to say the end justifies the means but you know what I am saying either way don’t you..


    Did you actually read my email Ian. You really believe the means justifies the end (with a massively reduced gene pool). Hopefully that helps you sleep at night.

    Ian Gill (DOC) 12/10/2012 at 8:51 am

    Mike, have a listen to the birds at Otira

    1080 poison has been used every three or four years to protect the forest around Otira from possums since the 1960s – before the Department of Conservation existed.

    This area should be Ground Zero according to arguments about contamination and bird destruction – yet – In reality Otira is a healthy forest ecosystem with great birdlife and pure water.


    It looks like Lloyd is a real grump and hasnt spent time in the bush to feel what it is like without bird song, time, money well spent DOC


    Thought this excerpt from the NRDC staff blog might be of interest to readers of your blog. I’ll be very interested to see if you publish it.

    “There’s a reason that two states and many countries have banned Compound 1080 and why its use in the U.S. has been progressively restricted. Odorless and tasteless, the substance has no antidote and can take as long as 2 to 15 agonizing hours to kill its victims through cardiac failure, progressive failure of the central nervous system, or respiratory arrest following severe, prolonged convulsions. U.S. Air Force analysts, citing numerous other national security experts, have identified Compound 1080 as a potential threat to drinking water supplies if used as a chemical weapon because it “can cause incapacitation or death in humans at very small doses.”

    How likely is this scenario? For what it’s worth, U.S.-made containers of Compound 1080 were found among Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons stockpiles in 2003.

    Wildlife Services has relentlessly defended its use of what is essentially a chemical weapon to kill a few dozen coyotes and other wild carnivores per year (that we know of). Even if you actually believe that the U.S. government should be horrifically killing wild carnivores at the behest of private ranching interests, and at taxpayer expense, there’s a word for this: overkill.”.


    The use of 1080 in New Zealand disgusts me. It is banned everywhere in the world pretty much to the point where New Zealand uses the vast majority of world production. Do we know something the rest of the world doesn’t. Yeah right.

    1080 usage in New Zealand is basically the same muddy thinking that introduced possums in the first place (and wasps etc). Oh that seems a good idea lets poison the whole country cause its a cheap fix.

    I went for a walk in the bush behind Raumati some time ago into an area that had a large wildlife population including a high bird population and had recently been 1080 bombed. There was nothing alive. In five to six hours walking I saw one very sick blackbird. If the profit from the importation of 1080 into New Zealand wasn’t being reaped by the politically well connected it would not be used here.

    This is totally apart from the cruelty of the use of 1080 on living, breathing, feeling mammals. DOC should be ashamed of itself.

    Lloyd Hanson 01/09/2012 at 1:45 pm

    This is unsubstantiated rhetoric, I for one will not believe anything put out by DOc or AHb unless sustantiated by a scientific peer reveiwed study! Looks great though congratulations to the imaginative public relations consultants that thought this up ,I wonder how much of public money it cost!


      Hi Lloyd,

      Project Kaka is a long-term research programme and while it is still early days, monitoring undertaken by DOC, the AHB, Greater Wellington Regional Council and Landcare Research have shown some positive preliminary results. Over the 10 year term of the project, 1080 will be applied two further times in the Project Kaka area and once more in the Hutt Catchment. Monitoring changes in bird and mammal indices before and after these pest control operations in treated and untreated areas will give us greater confidence that these early trends are real. There are monitoring results from many similar operations which give the Department confidence in the benefits of using 1080.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. New Zealand kokako birds’ songs | Dear Kitty. Some blog - May 22, 2013

    […] organ-like song. Once widespread in the North Island, loss of habitat by deforestation and predation by rats, possums and stoats decimated the population. By 1999, fewer than 400 pairs remained, and […]