New Zealand vows to wipe out rats, other invasive predators

Weasels, opossums among animals to be killed off by 2050 under ‘ambitious’ plan

Rats are to be killed off in New Zealand under a new conservation programme. Photograph: Alexander W Helin/Getty Images

Rats are to be killed off in New Zealand under a new conservation programme. Photograph: Alexander W Helin/Getty Images


New Zealand plans to eliminate invasive predators by 2050, wiping out opossums, rats and weasels that threaten the survival of native species, the government announced Monday.

The island nation has a large number of unique animals that face extreme pressure from small, predatory mammals brought by Polynesian and European settlers.

“While once the greatest threat to our native wildlife was poaching and deforestation, it is now introduced predators,” prime minister John Key said in a written statement.

“Rats, possums and stoats kill 25 million of our native birds every year, and prey on other native species such as lizards and, along with the rest of our environment, we must do more to protect them,” the statement said.

New Zealand’s iconic kiwi, a small, flightless bird with a long bill, is one of the native birds endangered by rats and weasels.

The department of conservation has killed off predators on some smaller outlying islands with traps and poisons dropped by air.

The same techniques have been used to control rats and other predators in protected areas on New Zealand’s two main islands.

But expanding such a programme to cover the whole country is expected to come at a high financial cost and could prompt criticism over the use of poisons and traps to kill a large number of animals.

Animal rights activists and celebrities condemned a similar plan announced by Australia last year to use poison to eliminate millions of feral cats.

The government has set aside $20m (€12.85m) in initial funds for a company, Predator Free New Zealand, to lead the effort. That spending is in addition to more than $40m (€25.7m) spent on pest control each year.

A 2015 study by the University of Auckland found that such a programme could cost more than $6.2bn (€3.98bn) over 50 years, but the cost to agriculture to otherwise manage such pests over the same period would run more than $11bn (€7bn).

Mr Key called the effort “the most ambitious conservation project attempted anywhere in the world”.

In addition to protecting native species, killing off rats and other invasive predators will help protect livestock by curbing the spread of disease, New Zealand officials said.

“Possums and ferrets are the main carriers of bovine TB, which is a very destructive disease for cattle and deer,” the primary industries minister, Nathan Guy, said in a statement.

New York Times