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  • This timeline explores the history and science of mammalian pest control in New Zealand. A full transcript is underneath the timeline.

    1080 and pest control – a timeline

    • Introduced pest mammals
    • 1080 as pest control
    • Advances in science and technology

    This timeline traces the introduction of pest mammal species to New Zealand, the use of 1080 for pest control and how advances in science and technology have improved how we use it.

    Introduced pest mammals

    Early settlers brought animals to New Zealand for food, fur, sport and sometimes by accident. In the absence of natural predators, many of these mammals became pest species that impact native ecosystems and kill native species.

    1080 as pest control

    1080 is a poison that targets mammals. It is the most regulated form of pest control in New Zealand.

    Advances in science and technology

    Decades of research have improved our understanding of 1080’s environmental impacts. Technological advances have increased the safety, efficiency and precision of 1080 operations. New technologies also provide targeted and more humane means of pest control.


    Introduced pest mammals

    1250 – Kiore and kurī

    Kiore (Pacific rats) and kurī (dogs) arrive in the canoes of the first Polynesian explorers. Kiore contribute to the extinction or reduction of several native species including giant wētā, snails and the New Zealand snipe.

    1772 – Norway rats

    Norway rats arrive on the ships of some of the first European explorers. The rats quickly disperse and spread.

    Image courtesy of Ngā Manu Images

    1773 – Cats

    James Cook’s ship cat is the first cat to kill native birds.

    1837 – Brushtail possums

    The Australian brushtail possum is deliberately introduced to establish a fur trade, but efforts are unsuccessful.

    Image licensed through 123RF Limited

    1838 – Rabbits

    Rabbits are introduced for food and sport.

    1851 – Hares

    Hares are introduced to Canterbury for food and sport.

    1851 – Red deer

    The first of about 1,000 British red deer are released in the South Island for game hunting.

    1858 – Southland possums

    Possums are successfully established in Southland in order to establish a fur trade.

    1860 – Ship rats

    Introduced during earlier visits, ship rats are now established across New Zealand.

    Image: Comparison of rat species in New Zealand. From left to right – Norway rat, ship rat, kiore and house mouse.

    Photograph by Jason Froggatt, courtesy Auckland War-Memorial Museum.

    1863 – Red deer

    Red deer are released into the North Island.

    1870 – Hedgehogs

    The European hedgehog is introduced to eat slugs, snails and grubs.

    Image of European Hedgehog, Erinaceus europaeus, collected 1 December 1932, Taita, Wellington, New Zealand. Gift of Frederick Westbury, 1933. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Te Papa (LM001417)

    1879 – Ferrets

    Ferrets are introduced to control rabbits and hares. They immediately spread into the bush.

    1884 – Stoats

    Stoats are introduced to control rabbits and hares. Scientists, including ornithologist Walter Butler, warn of the danger to native birds.

    Image courtesy of Ngā Manu Images

    1894 – Hedgehogs exchanged for weka

    Christchurch man imports 12 hedgehogs in exchange for 12 weka. The hedgehogs escape on their first night ashore.

    1905 – Wapiti gifted

    US President Theodore Roosevelt gives wapiti deer as a gift to the country. They are released in Fiordland.

    1910 – Impact of deer

    Large herds are reported to be overgrazing pasture and native forests, causing erosion and flooding.

    Image: Red deer in a paddock in the Wairarapa. Ref: 1/2-000268-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23081433

    1930 – Possums spread

    Possums have now been released in 450 locations around the country.

    A rare image of a rat and a possum taking chicks from a nest, courtesy of Ngā Manu Images

    1930 – Deer menace

    The Deer Menace Conference takes place in Christchurch. Government deer culling begins soon after.

    Image: Deer hunters camp at Camerons Flat, and antlers. Ref: PAColl-6208-41. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22729288

    1946 – Possums declared pests

    Possums are classified as pests because of the damage they cause in native forests. All protections are removed.

    Image: Two possum trappers with a day’s catch from the Lake Waikaremoana district. Ref: PAColl-8983-05. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22833760

    1951 – Possum bounty scheme

    A bounty scheme runs for 10 years – 8 million possums are trapped and killed, mostly from accessible locations.

    1964 – Big South Cape Island/Taukihepa

    Ship rats are accidentally introduced on Big South Cape Island/Taukihepa (off Rakiura/Stewart Island) and quickly wipe out seven native species including birds, a bat and an insect. Other species are impacted but not eliminated.

    Learn more in Big South Cape: an invasion, a rescue and an eradication.

    Image of damage by ship rats to the Waitiri family muttonbird hut on Big South Cape Island/Taukihepa, April 1964.

    Photo copyright of Brian Bell and sourced from The legacy of Big South Cape: Rat irruption to rat eradication. Elizabeth Bell, Brian D. Bell and Don V. Merton. January 2016. New Zealand Journal of Ecology, 40(2): 212–218.

    1993 – Video evidence

    Video shows possums eating kōkako eggs and chicks. Prior to this, possums were assumed to be vegetarian.

    Image courtesy of Ngā Manu Images

    2012 – Tahr damage

    Department of Conservation photos reveal grazing impacts of tahr on native vegetation.

    Image is of Zora Creek, Landsborough, before tahr impacts 2003 (left) and after tahr impacts 2012.

    Department of Conservation, CC BY 4.0

    2017 – Sika deer released

    Sika deer are illegally released into north Taranaki conservation forest. Wild deer are major pests on public conservation lands.

    1080 as pest control

    1080 is a poison that targets mammals. It is the most regulated form of pest control in New Zealand.

    1927 – Monofluoroacetate patented

    Monofluoroacetate is patented in Germany as an insecticide/moth repellent. (At this time, the chemical naming protocol requires the first element of a compound to be numbered. There is one sodium atom in the compound, so it is called monofluoroacetate. The protocol has since changed, so mono is no longer used.)

    1944 – 1080 ‘named’

    US Fish and Wildlife Service refers to fluoroacetate by its laboratory catalogue number – 1080. It is first used in the US as a rodenticide to control rats and mice and later used to control coyotes and other predatory mammals on government-owned land.

    1954 – New Zealand trials

    New Zealand tests the efficacy of 1080 for mammalian pest control using both ground-based and aerial applications. Its usage becomes widespread by 1957. Small amounts of 1080 are added to a variety of baits including cereal pellets, chopped carrot and gel baits.

    Image: Bagging carrots in 1957 for use with 1080 bait.

    Evening Post (Newspaper. 1865-2002): Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1957/2393-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22621780

    1961 – Use in South Africa

    1080 is used in South Africa to target jackals, moles and baboons.

    1972 – United States cancels the use of 1080

    Lawsuits prompt the US Government to review the use of toxins to control predators on government-owned land. As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency cancels the registration of 1080, sodium cyanide, strychnine and thallium sulfate.

    1979 – Reduced funding for TB possum control

    Curbing possum numbers for TB control is initially very successful, so funding and operations are reduced. As a result of reduced control, areas where wild animals have bovine TB increase from 8 to 15. Infected herd numbers rise to pre-control levels.

    1985 – United States reinstates 1080 use

    The US Environmental Protection Agency registers 1080 for use in livestock protection collars. The collar has a pouch of 1080 solution, which ruptures when a coyote attempts to kill a sheep or goat by biting its throat. Only coyotes that attack livestock are killed.

    2003 – Managing the spread of bovine TB

    Over 300 New Zealand cattle herds are infected with bovine TB. By 2015, the number is reduced to less than 50 herds.

    Image: A fatal curiosity; how TB could spread from an infected possum (with pus on its fur) to cattle. Graham Nugent, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, CC-BY 4.0

    2005 – Wallaby cull

    Tasmania uses 1080 to kill 200,000 wallabies on King Island.

    2007 – New Zealand horse deaths

    An aerial 1080 drop near Tūrangi leaves four horses dead and three sick when the operator fails to advise the owner to move the horses.

    2008 – Carrot baits stopped

    New Zealand’s Department of Conservation stops using carrot baits. Although dyed bright green, they are still attractive to some non-target species like kākā.

    Image courtesy of the Department of Conservation

    2011 – Red fox eradication

    Tasmania uses 1080 to eradicate red foxes from the state.

    2011 – Whio success

    Whio (blue duck) fledgling numbers triple after aerial and ground control operations in Tongariro National Park in the central North Island.

    Image courtesy of Bubs Smith

    2014 – Large beech mast

    Large beech seed events in the South Island lead to a boom in pest numbers. Increased aerial 1080 drops are effective in stopping rat plagues.

    2014 – Kea deaths

    The Department of Conservation reports that 24 radio-tagged kea died as a result of aerial operations between 2008 and 2014. Kea deaths are confined to just six of the pest control sites. Experts think kea that are exposed to human activity and food are at greater risk of poisoning as they are more likely to try new foods.

    2015 – Kōkako success

    The kōkako population in the Mangatutu Ecological Area (south of Hamilton) grows by 700% after four 1080 drops over 16 years.

    Image: North Island kōkako (Callaeas wilsoni), Matt Binns, CC BY 2.0

    2016 – No kea deaths

    The Department of Conservation reports that there were no kea deaths from it's 2016 Battle for our Birds aerial operation.

    2018 – Cattle deaths

    Eight cattle die after entering a 1080 operational area via a broken fence.

    2021 – South Island robins

    Research published in 2021 notes the positive nesting success of South Island robins after aerial 1080 drops significantly reduced ship rat populations.

    Advances in science and technology

    1896 – Monofluroacetate synthesised

    Belgian chemist Frédéric Swarts first synthesises monofluoroacetate in the lab.

    Image: Frédéric Swarts with other attendees at the Solvay Conference on Chemistry in 1922. Public domain.

    1967 – Bovine tuberculosis

    A vet makes the link between bovine tuberculosis and possums. Research confirms the link in 1971. Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease that affects the lungs and airways.

    1983 – Cinnamon oil

    Cinnamon oil is added to baits. The smell is offensive to birds but attractive to possums.

    1989 – GPS navigation

    The first GPS navigation systems guide aerial fertiliser applications. 1080 operators are quick to adopt the technology.

    Image: petervick16, licensed through 123RF Ltd.

    1993 – Continued bait research

    Using non-toxic baits, research finds that some bird species still sample green cinnamon baits.

    1993 – Tree wētā study

    In a lab study, tree wētā fed doses of 1080 survive, with 67% of the toxin being excreted within hours.

    Image courtesy of Andy Heyward, licensed through 123RF Ltd.

    1993 – Biocontrol options

    A paper in the New Zealand Journal of Zoology outlines several options to biologically control possums, including using parasitic worms, hormone-toxins and vaccines.

    Image: University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    1993 – Lower bait concentration

    Research shows that less bait is needed. The concentration drops from 20 kg bait/ha down to 5 kg bait/ha and eventually to 2–3 kg bait/ha.

    1998 – Bait pre-feeding

    Non-toxic pre-feeds are now standard practice. Eating safe, pleasant-tasting baits encourages rats and possums to seek out the poisoned baits when they are dropped.

    Diagram of pre-feeding benefits courtesy of

    1999 – Blue dye added

    Trials show most bird species do not eat blue food items but possums do. Blue dye is added to green baits.

    2002 – Bait flow sensors

    Sensors and video recordings help aerial operators to achieve more evenly spread bait coverage.

    2004 – Aquatic creatures

    NIWA scientists place 10 times the usual 1080 concentration in a stream. Samplings show no biological impacts to aquatic organisms.

    2005 – Soil organisms

    Landcare Research scientists expose a range of soil organisms to doses of 1080. Any 1080-related effects happen at levels well above those measured in soil following a 1080 operation.

    Image of tiger worm (Eisenia fetida) and cocoon courtesy of Andreas Thomsen CC 3.0

    2005 – Drinking water

    New Zealand’s Ministry of Health adopts water standards, with a provisional maximum acceptable value (PMVA) of 3.5 ppb 1080 but recommends drinking water be less than 2 ppb.

    Image: University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    2005 – ERMA reassessment

    New Zealand’s Environmental Risk Management Authority judges that the benefits of 1080 outweigh adverse effects but recommends tighter controls.

    2009 – SowLow bucket

    A new 1080 bait bucket delivery design increases the effectiveness of aerial operations.

    Morgan, David. (2015). Maximising the effectiveness of aerial 1080 control of possums (Trichosurus vulpecula). 10.13140/2.1.3354.9607.

    2010 – Biocontrol research finishes

    Research into possum contraceptive vaccines and hormone toxin projects ends. Much has been learned about possum reproduction, but practical control methods have not been achieved.

    2010 – Self-resetting traps

    Conservation groups trial self-resetting traps and provide feedback to refine the traps and lures. The aim is to reduce the need for people to check and reset traps between kills.

    IMAGE: Goodnature trap, Annie Dick, CC BY-SA 4.0

    2011 – PCE report

    Dr Jan Wright, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, releases a report evaluating the use of 1080. She says it is effective and safe and New Zealand should use more of it.

    2014 – Biological Heritage NSC

    Launch of New Zealand’s Biological Heritage Ngā Koiora Tuku Iho National Science Challenge. Research will cover biosecurity and management.

    Logo courtesy of New Zealand’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge

    2016 – Predator-free launch

    The government adopts the goal of becoming predator-free by 2050.

    2017 – Gene editing

    The Royal Society Te Apārangi releases documents exploring the use of gene editing for pest control of possums, rats and stoats.

    Image courtesy of Royal Society Te Apārangi

    Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wananga o Waikato Published 26 November 2018, Updated 9 August 2021 Referencing Hub media
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