Wellington Scoop

Scoop dogs report: 50 ways to kill a possum – but not with poison near water.


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.


  1. Scoop Dogs #1 Fan, 29. January 2014, 8:59

    It’s not really keeping with the ‘Clean Green’ image that we New Zealanders are proud of. It does make you wonder how much of this stuff is just lying around that we are not aware of. I’m glad the Scoop Dogs are okay!

  2. Feeder, 29. January 2014, 9:05

    Leaving cyanide just lying around the landscape suggests a level of negligence verging on the homicidal. Any poisoner simply has to kept their eyes open in possum affected areas and swipe a few packets on the quiet, none of that awkward (and traceable) business of signing the Poisons Register or accounting for why you wanted cyanide afterwards….

  3. Traveller, 29. January 2014, 9:06

    Pity that fur couldn’t come back into fashion again, to make possums valuable in the way deer became, they’d be hoovered out of the forests real fast. The other option is meat, during the 80’s we were selling them to Taiwan, under the name of “Apple Eating Tree Bear”.

  4. Neil Douglas, 29. January 2014, 9:26

    Great comment Feeder, I’d never thought of the free poison angle and I’m supposed to be an economist able to work out myself all the externalities (including unintended ones) of behaviour and policies etc.

    I’ll have to read the obituaries in the Wairarapa Times Age to see whether there is a spike in Masterton deaths from ‘unknown’ causes during the next couple of months.

  5. Another Scoop Dogs Fan, 29. January 2014, 9:36

    This is just wrong. Are people free to hunt them? Wouldn’t that take care of the problem? Thanks for exposing this Henry and Harriet.

  6. Albert Tatlock, 29. January 2014, 10:13

    Don’t talk to me about economists!

    I’d bet my last kiwi dollar that some accountancy company like Ernest and Yung has been paid a squillion by DOC (The Department of Cyanide?) to do one of those objective Cost Benefit Analysis / Business case reports and come up with a Benefit Cost Ratio of 10.80 in order to get funding for poisoning possums from dumb old Treasury.

  7. SydneySider007, 29. January 2014, 10:51

    I’m appalled at such abuse of the lovely possum, to say nothing of the risks to local campers. When I lived on the leafy shore of Sydney the possums were clearly out to play in the early morning and late dusk. I used to see them on my run. Now I live in Sydney’s Inner West I never see our beloved possum despite the presence of many trees and far more parks. It has constantly puzzled me. Some of my less progressive neighbours have suggested the local Greeks kebabbed them all a long time ago. I’m more inclined to believe that the culprits are local cats. Inner-westies seem to love their little kitties. My suggestion is that Central District Pest Control buy some cats.

  8. Neil Douglas, 29. January 2014, 11:27

    A local economist, philanthropist, football club owner, motor-cyclist, book writer and bird fancier Dr Gareth Morgan (who you have probably never heard of) would probably organise the Bondi Russian mafia to take you out SydneySider007 if you pursuaded CDPC to release a single cat over here. Dr Morgan simply hates cats.

  9. Liz Reedy, 29. January 2014, 11:56

    If you don’t want our Aussie Possums, then round them up and send them back on the boats that first bought them to you. Aussies are hot to trot on that type of approach here with people! ( irony in case you missed it.) Turn back the Possums but for heavens sake turn off the poison. Thanks to Neil and his dogs for exposing this reckless management practice. I hope upper management is spewing and embarrassed enough to get some quality control into their strategies. There may be a need to start a movement called Possum Watch!

  10. insider, 29. January 2014, 12:07

    There’s been signs on Petone Beach for months warning about the risk to dogs of scavenging dead poisoned possums washed down the Hutt River, so it’s not unique to the ‘rapa. But I suspect more risk comes from toxic algae than toxic possums

  11. Cr Paul Bruce, 29. January 2014, 12:44

    We should employ locals to trap in this popular recreation area and
    leave poison drops to more isolated areas. Appropriate signage is the very least one can do.

  12. Piglet, 29. January 2014, 12:49

    I read in the DominionPost recently how quite a few dogs had died (nine to be exact) from poison put down for possums. But it doesn’t seem to deter DOC from upping their 1080 programme.

    I am appalled by this story as I have been swimming in the Ruamahanga River over Christmas and New Year. I also had my grandson paddling in the river.

    As Neil Douglas mentioned, there should be large signs and warnings to the public in that picnic area.

    The Harvest Festival is going to be held there in March so I hope people will not be popping in there for a swim especially if they put their heads under.

  13. Fei, 29. January 2014, 13:20

    Using the deadly cyanide for pest control requires a high level of cautiousness. The lack of warning signs posts danger to the public who live in or travel around the Ruamahanga River. For pets and even kids, who are driven by their nature to explore, dangerous poisons should be put beyond their reach. However, this is not the case here. I am happy that Harriet and Henry are safe, but concerned about other possible victim.

  14. Paul Simon, 29. January 2014, 13:48

    Albert, dumb old Treasury doesn’t make the decisions, dumb politicians do from advice of brilliant economists like Neil who know every trick on how to win the game.

    Now regarding the cyanide, what a dangerous and poor attempt by the administration to kill pests. Isn’t cyanide the Tamil Tigers’ suicide method of choice? The administration should follow the Tamil Tigers’ lead and use it on themselves.

  15. Daryl Cockburn, 29. January 2014, 14:30

    We should buy our women-folk possum skin overcoats, jackets & boot/slippers, and clothes w possum collars. Women might do likewise for themselves, and export them

  16. jonquay, 29. January 2014, 15:46

    the poisoning certainly looks badly done in this case – but ‘wilderness’ magazine recently did a pretty convincing review of the arguments for and against 1080 – and came down heavily in favour of it – i will scan and send it to you.

    i am also tending to lean towards believing that another ice age will be next rather than a global warming (evidence here is a bbc knowledge docco) – and unfortunately i suspect given their thick fur, possums would thrive in such an eventuality – in fact come to think of it this is probably the reason they left australia and came to nz in the first place. following this logic through – there should therefore be potential to attract them to an even colder climate – ie couldn’t nz simply round them up and export them to britain (which will be covered in an ice sheet if it gets any colder there) as household pets?

  17. Robert Macnamarra, 29. January 2014, 17:13

    Paul Simon, You need to drop agent orange from the air like the Yanks did in ‘Nam. Total forest defoliation is the answer, then the pesky possums would have absolutely nothing to eat and would die of starvation.

  18. Neil Douglas, 29. January 2014, 17:45

    Ice age Jonquay? It’s 30 degrees here in the Wrappa today! A day you couldn’t better but unfortunately I could not take my dogs for a swim in the river because of CDPC and their cyanide poisoning. Killjoys all of ’em.

  19. Polly, 29. January 2014, 18:34

    Oh my goodness this is most distressing. When I was swimming there a month ago I saw no signage. And recently I took my one year old baby swimming in this river.
    This is not a fail safe way to kill possums. What can be done to stop this? It’s so sad to hear dogs have fallen victim. It’s only a matter of time before someone accidentally gets poisoned. Do we wait until that happens???

  20. Neil Douglas, 29. January 2014, 18:52

    Polly, you and you son were safe when you swam/paddled at the picnic spot since the cyanide ‘teabags’ were only stuck on the willows upstream on the 18th of January according to the nearby sign.

  21. Polly, 29. January 2014, 19:32

    I was swimming there one month ago and saw no signage.

  22. Paul Simon, 29. January 2014, 19:57

    Robert, our eco system and water quality are the foundations of life. Ask any third world nation the number one need they require and it’s water. I truly wish stupid people could be transplanted to a deserted island so procreation was based on a healthy gene pool.

  23. Prof. Dr. G. Keith Still, 29. January 2014, 20:05

    This is insane – leaving cyanide where is can leak into the water table.

  24. ConnellsPoint007andahalf, 29. January 2014, 20:53

    Sydneysider007: The Greeks do not have kebabs, that is the Lebanese. The Greeks have souvalaki. Greek possum souvalaki is tastier than Lebanese possum kebab as presented by Rick Stein.

  25. Rodney Forrest, 29. January 2014, 21:20

    Dr Douglas comes up on my ‘Google Alerts’ & instead of reading a piece on VOT or New South Wales greatest rail project, NWRL, I venture into the dark world of environmental economics. I wonder what -ve externalities Dr Douglas would calculate from cyanide. Surely this crazy behaviour of water and forest degradation will be stopped.

    Signing off as one of those crazy and inept Treasury Officials.

  26. paddy burgin, 29. January 2014, 21:58

    Possums must be laughing at the inept yobbos trying to exterminate them. Thanks for uncovering the dark truth of our war against these furry pests.

  27. Timbers, 29. January 2014, 23:51

    Hi Neil

    With the benefit of a few schooners I have managed to come up with a line for your Paul Simon inspired ditty:

    Rev up the truck Chuck

  28. Phil C, 30. January 2014, 2:05

    Polly, you really shouldn’t be taking your one year old son to swim in the Ruamahanga. The river has been a toxic mess of run-off, sewage, algal blooms and god knows what else for years.

  29. Neil Douglas, 30. January 2014, 8:10

    Paddy: I hope three of the furry pests that I saw and photographed had laughed themselves to death.

  30. Jezza Clarkson, 30. January 2014, 8:18

    Phil C: It’s usually pretty clear, except after a storm when all sorts of stuff comes down from the Masterton metropolis. What’s more of a danger to Polly and her one year old are the jet boats that blast up and down the river. Looks bloody exciting though and could be a great way to get to the Gladdy.

  31. Timbers, 30. January 2014, 12:11

    Hi Neil, Another Possum Killing Line

    “Drown it in the Lake, Jake”

    I see you have got Jezza Clarkson interested. Maybe I should sign myself in as “Steve Bell” or his erstwhile foe “the Ironing Lady”

    Then again maybe not

  32. Tim Brenstrum, 30. January 2014, 20:50

    I am from Central Districts Pest Control Ltd and will attempt to address some of the issues people have raised.

    The toxin used was cyanide encapsulated in a polymer which is a little round green pill slightly smaller than a pea. It was delivered in this case in a biodegradable Feratox bait bag along with 8g of non-toxic Ferafeed. These are stapled to tree trunks and are very effective at controlling possums. Cyanide is relaltively humane toxin in that it kills in seconds to minutes vs anticoagulant toxins which may take weeks. It is not a cumulative toxin and nor is it persistent in the environment in the quantities in which we use it.

    The bait was not used at the campground but in rough private or GWRC land alongside the river. Signage was used, although not at the campground as we had no plans to use toxin there for obvious reasons. We use a range of techniques including the kill traps to which Neil referred which we use in public access areas and around houses.

    No dogs were killed as one post (by Polly) suggested.

    Our phone number is on the sign but as yet we have received no calls. I am always happy to come and sort things out immediately (i.e. remove offending baits) and would certainly look to amend our practises if there is an obvious problem.

    The possum is an introduced pest. In Australia they have co-evolved with the vegetation (e.g. Eucalyptus) so they do not become super abundant and nor do they kill the trees. NZ is a bit like a candy store for the possums and they can browse many of our native tree species and sometimes kill them. They also like birds, birds’ eggs and insects (e.g. wetas and snails). If left unchecked they can reach huge numbers as they have no real natural predators here (again unlike Australia) – and when they do they can support Tb and pass it on to cattle which is why we have been contracted to do the work.

    Dead possums break down pretty rapidly at this time of year (1-2 weeks). Cyanide is not a cumulative toxin – the flesh of the possum is not toxic to dogs (or insects or fish) although I certainly do not recommend that you allow them to scavenge the dead possums.

    I agree that it was a bad look that the Feratox bags had ended up on the ground and that Neil happened upon them without first encountering a sign. We are required to have signage at all access points and I will be checking on whether this was adequate.

  33. Steve Bell, 31. January 2014, 8:46

    Having read much of the sad but amusing thread above, including calming the ‘last post’ by Tim the ‘Professional,’ I think it is all a problem about signage.

    Now having also read about your Prime Minister’s plan for a totally black flag and the Minister of the Environment’s new plan for a massive escalation in poison control, the answer lies in/on your national flag

    A skull and cross bones on a pure black flag with the words NZ at the top and Poison at the bottom.

    I can help perfect the design if I get the call.

  34. Neil Douglas, 31. January 2014, 9:43

    Tim and all:

    I was watching the Borgias late at night on Freeview (what a good idea going digital was) with the excellent Jeremy Irons playing Rodrigo. Well the message from the medieval Florence is NEVER EVER get on the wrong side of a professional poisoner. So you’re 100% right Tim. I’ll be keeping my dogs on a lead when I walk along the river, and trying to stay away from the willow trees.

    NZ is a very dog unfriendly place. You can’t take them in National Parks and many Reserves. There are few country paths to walk them on. Farmers don’t like you on their land. There is poison in the Forest Parks and now the river banks have poison bait. There is poison on Tinakori Hill….and all over the Wellington town belt. I could make another song out of this!

    John Key is so right in going for a black flag as it definitely suits my mood at the moment. NZ is a black place.

  35. The Irony Lady, 31. January 2014, 12:08

    To paraphrase myself and another famous Australian drag queen of the 80s: What these “possums” need is the smack of firm government, or any other suitably administered opiate in appropriate doses. Then send them all off to Port Stanley.

  36. Fei, 31. January 2014, 12:23

    I am not an expert in pest control poisons, but I did some search on cyanide. I think Pest Control Ltd has its reasons (good or bad) to use drugs to kill possums. But is there any reason that could justify their incautiousness?

  37. Graeme Buckley, 31. January 2014, 15:22

    I would like to thank Mr Brenstrum for his comments clarifying the use of cyanide baits. I have no particular sympathy for possums, in a former job I was feeding 1080 laced carrots to a cageful of the little furry pests to work out LD 50 levels and a kept a very careful eye on their claws.
    My main worry is that such an effective poison as cyanide was being widely distributed in an unsupervised publicly accessible area. If the possums consume it fine, but the current methods do not seem to ensure that only possums (or stoats or ferrets) could get at it.

    Unfortunately, poisoning seems to be the only way to get such endemic pest fauna (possums, stoats, ferrets, rats, mice) under control, trapping is insufficient, and too likely to cull the wrong species. Shooting would also be too risky, there are enough deer hunters shooting each other, the thought of amateurs blazing away in the bush margins of towns and cities is horrific to contemplate.

  38. Polly, 31. January 2014, 17:29

    Hi Phil,
    I live in Australia. I visited the river for one day. Would you kindly show me a photo of the signage that states this information? I assume it’s all well sign posted and informative. Alas I’m not a psychic.

  39. Polly, 31. January 2014, 21:30

    Apologies Tim: I read a quote above mentioning an article in the DomPost that said dogs had been poisoned from 1080. But as you have explained you aren’t using that. As someone else did point out- I wonder if coincidentaly any dogs have died suddenly from seemingly unknown causes. It would be hard to track but I’m sure some have fallen victim.
    Nevertheless where I swam with my son there were no signs saying the river was unfit to swim in, or unsafe etc. So I had no idea.

  40. Phil C, 31. January 2014, 23:52

    Hi Polly,

    Google Ruamahanga and pollution for incidents in recent years. Anyone contemplating swimming in NZ rivers or at beaches needs to be aware of the polluted state of the majority of NZ waterways and lakes. Look into the history of the Tarawera River as just one example of ongoing officially sanctioned environmental degradation, or look into Lake Horowhenua (if you could, through the toxic algal blooms.) Beaches, too, are frequently of poor environmental quality (by European standards.) It’s often not sign posted, because, well, she’ll be right. Mate.

  41. Master Don, 1. February 2014, 9:42

    Neil: You are so right about the NZ countryside being dog unfriendly. The big urban areas where the dog owning middle classes have some say is where you need to live except right in the centre where they are banned.

    Here in Masterton it’s not much better than the countryside – you can’t take your dog into the town. This is more to do with the dopey people who own the pit bulls and the staffies and the rotties.

    There is Henley Lake however, but not right now at the moment because of annual algal bloom.

    Just keep on paying the dog fees Neil and keep them on a lead.

  42. Jenny, 1. February 2014, 14:05

    If any poisons have to be used, then from a animal welfare point of view, cyanide as I understand is the most quick and humane way to kill possums (which like any living/breathing animal, deserve not to suffer under ANY circumstances.
    My beef is: surely any poison should be used well away from publicly accessable areas.

  43. Neil Douglas, 4. February 2014, 9:04

    Postscript: CDPC has put up a sign at the camp site alerting picnickers and campers that possum ‘control’ is being carried out in the area by means of poison and traps and that people should not move carcasses, touch bait etc and that dogs should be kept on leads.

    Thanks for doing this CDPC.

  44. Sally Evers, 10. February 2014, 11:07

    Problem solved then?

    On the West Coast last week I enjoyed a possum pie, very tasty. Payment by donation only though as potential TB carriers they cannot be sold. My donation was for the pastry of course!

    Sorry but I still subscribe to “the onlky good possum is a dead possum”

  45. Judith Dunne, 11. February 2014, 5:36

    Having read the article written by Neil, I was horrified by the apparent lack of thought by the person or persons who decided to put down such a hazardous chemical in a public accessed area without adequate signs erected .
    If this happened where I lived (Peak District National Park, England) there would be serious consequences . It is therefore an improvement that warning signs have now been put up, although I am sure that there were other methods that could have been used , which would not have caused problems to humans, dogs or any other unfortunate wildlife.

  46. Old Wyn the Possum, 11. February 2014, 6:56

    Oh Sally: Humans humans humans, you bring me here for my fur and I do well so you hate me. You then spend millions to kill me in fifty different ways, some that take me weeks for me to die in a trap or give me a horrible stomache ache from 1080 poison. You give me diseases that I’ve never had before like TB and then blame me for carrying it. I think I have as much intelligence as a whale or a dolphin or some of the Shiatsu dogs I’ve bumped into to. Hopefully, the Icelanders, the Japanese and the Koreans/Vietnamese will expose your nation’s hypocrisy and your green and friendly image as a marketing sham. So please kill me kindly or round me up and send me back to Broken Hill where we came from and where I’m loved and not hated.

  47. Cr Paul Bruce, 13. February 2014, 12:50

    In response to comments around contamination of the Ruamahanga River, I asked for a response from Greater Wellington’s science people and the following information has been provided:

    · 6 (swimming) sites are monitored on the Ruamahanga River include the Morrison’s Bush site.

    · 3 sites, (Te Ore Ore, Gladstone and Pukio), are monitored for nitrogen and phosphorus under a separate programme around river health.

    Other general points to note:

    · During dry weather/moderate/low river flows, water quality for swimming is graded as ‘good’ at sites in the upper catchment (Double Bridges and Te Ore Ore), ‘poor’ in the middle reaches (the Cliffs) and ‘fair’ in the lower reaches (Kokotau, Morrisons Bush and Waihenga).

    (Note: the grades for sites from The Cliffs downstream are interim grades related to the inputs of treated sewage from Masterton and other townships. E.coli counts at these sites are relatively low during dry weather, a lack of information on pathogen removal efficiency of the municipal wastewater treatment plants that discharge to the Ruamahanga River mean that grades at sites downstream of these discharges (The Cliffs, Kokotau, Morrisons Bush and Waihenga Bridge) have conservatively been set at ‘poor’ and ‘fair’ until further information becomes available.)

    · During wet weather and high river flows, water quality is not suitable for swimming at any of the Raumahanga River sites apart from Double Bridges. The most likely source of contamination during higher flows/heavy rainfall has been identified as runoff from agricultural land use in the catchment.

    · In terms of water quality for river health Te Ore Ore and the lower reaches at Pukio have Water Quality Index grades of ‘good’ while the site at Gladstone is rated ‘fair’ – the reason for this is due to guidelines for water clarity and Dissolved Reactive Phosphorus not being met.

    Paul, further information on water quality for swimming can be found in our 12/13 annual report:

    http://www.gw.govt.nz/assets/Our-Environment/Environmental-monitoring/Environmental-Reporting/Annual-Recreational-Water-Quality-Monitoring-Report-2012-13.pdf (sections 3 and appendix 4 of this report cover the results from river sites).

    Further information on water quality for river health can be found in the latest annual report for the Rivers State of the Environment monitoring programme (http://www.gw.govt.nz/assets/Our-Environment/Environmental-monitoring/Environmental-Reporting/Annual-Freshwater-Quality-Monitoring-Report-for-the-Wellington-Region-2011-12.pdf).

    There is of course a lot of reading between the lines required here, so further comments welcome.

  48. Neil Douglas, 15. February 2014, 20:16

    Thanks Paul. We really do need more Councillors like you who get involved and who want to access and share information with us the public. Well done.

  49. Fisherman Joe, 17. February 2014, 9:13

    Great program on Prime last night about water quality and the effects of dairying and the mitigation measured in Northland to improve water quality of the estuaries. Planting grasses, flaxes, hebes, cabbage trees, kanuka in the gullies where the water flows into streams and then the rivers has been successful especially when farmers were offered plants for free. Fencing off cows from streams and rivers has also been helpful.

    Across from the Carterton maintained campsite at the Cliffs there is quite intensive dairying and about 1km upstream from the campsite, I’ve seen cows standing in the river.

    More diligence on fencing and some more riparian planting with free plants to farmers should improve the water quality of the Ruamahanga. Let’s get to it!

  50. Jane the swimmer, 17. February 2014, 16:26

    Yes I saw that programme on Prime too. I have swum in rivers and the sea at popular public places like The Cliffs on the Ruamuhanga river. And it would be informative to have signs telling us what the water quality is like. It is not much use to the public if GWRC and others measure water quality if the rest of us never see the results. Only by naming and shaming will water quality improve. Well done Paul Bruce.