by Neil Douglas
I live near the Ruamahanga River on my nut farm. I’ve been taking my dogs for a cooling swim near the camping spot managed by the Carterton District Council and right now, in the heat of summer, it’s a magnet for day trippers and over-nighters. Ignorance is bliss in the countryside.
But my love of the river is now seriously tainted thanks to the Central District Pest Control which has come down from Hawkes Bay for a summertime poisoning splurge to kill our much maligned aussie possum.
I sometimes walk and paddle the three kilometres downstream to the Gladstone Inn, but last week I went upstream towards Masterton. This was a choice I nearly regretted as Henry and Harriet did what dogs do and followed their noses through the willow saplings that the Regional Council has planted along the river bank for erosion control.
Henry my black Labrador likes to go in front. Thankfully I was right behind him this time when I saw a blue packet the size of a teabag lying on the ground. It was mushy looking and was oozing something the colour of tea.
I looked up and there was another blue ‘teabag’ stuck to a willow trunk with brown gooey stuff inside. It had a blue skull and bones printed on the packet. From scanning the ‘ingredients’ I quickly learnt it had deadly cyanide inside.
Looking around, I spied several packets some still stuck to trees but others lying on the ground having been washed off or ripped off by possum or some other critter.
I quickly put Henry and Harriet back on their leads and dragged them out of the willows as fast as I could. There on a nearby gate on the gravel road, I saw a pink ribbon which from my ramblings elsewhere means that professional poisoners are out and about.
Apart from the sign up the road I saw nothing to tell Joe Public that poison bait was being scattered about the river’s edge. There was no sign at the riverside picnic area itself. Ignorance was bliss for the happy campers splashing around in the river.
The next day, I returned to the killing zone and took some photographs. There were three dead possums lying near blue packets, which showed how deadly the poison was.
Five other blue packages were lying in the mud and two on the water’s edge. What a lazy and dangerous approach to ‘pest’ control with so much potential for collateral killing.
Compare and contrast with the Wellington Regional Council whose trappers came around on motorbikes a few years back and set traps up that lopped a possum’s head clean off on the lure of a tasty apple. The trappers motor-biked around each morning to remove any possums they’d beheaded and reset their traps.
They certainly did not use deadly cyanide poison 500 metres upstream from a picnic area and swimming hole. Maybe there is no danger to the blissfully unaware swimmers because the cyanide gets so diluted by the time it flows by. But birds, frogs, fish and other critters like me and my Scoop dogs, who wander along the river’s edge, are at risk of a lethal dose.
Then there are the dead possum carcasses. Given the masses of prickly brambles, the poisoners will have a difficult job finding and picking them all up so I reckon some carcasses will get washed down the river to be eaten by eels, hawks and other unsuspecting animals.
So could the Central District Pest Control please use another method that kills our Australian possum immigrant as painlessly as possible but without harming the local environment? There must be fifty ways to kill a possum but poisoning them right next to a river, especially a recreational river, should never be one of them.
You just shoot it in the back, Jack
Make a new trap, Stan,
You don’t need to poison, Roy
Just listen to me,
Bash it on the head, Gus,
You don’t need to discuss much
Hang it from a tree, Lee
Cos Kiwis can’t let that Aussie possum free.
Neil Douglas (owner of the Scoop dogs) is a Wellington economist who is also a nut farmer.