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The future of 1080

Ben Ulisse
Doc worker vs possum
A possum drops in to say hi to an unsuspecting Department of Conservation ranger.  Ben Ulisse

There might not be a quick fix to the ongoing issue of pest control in Aotearoa, but an alternative chemical approach may be a step in the right direction.

Keeping invasive predators and other pest species in check has been an important part of the ecology of Aotearoa for many decades. Since the 1950s, this has largely been done with Sodium Fluoroacetate, more commonly known by its trade name 1080.

While it is the current poison of choice for the Department of Conservation, its usage is often met with criticism over the amount of time needed for an animal to fully succumb to its effects.

Charlotte Jones at the University of Canterbury said work was under way to research more compassionate methods, including alternative poisons.

One such alternative is Aminopropiophenone, otherwise known as PAPP, a chemical developed in the 1980s that works faster than 1080 and doesn’t have the same lingering environmental impact from residue. PAPP works by rapidly converting the haemoglobin in an animal's blood to methaemoglobin, which shuts down the body's ability to oxygenate blood.

The animal then goes to sleep as it succumbs to hypoxia. As gruesome as this might sound, it is a much more humane poison than 1080 due to the faster rate of death once the animal ingests it, so less suffering has to occur. It also has an antidote if ingestion happens by accident, something that 1080 does not have. 

PAPP is currently being used or trialled in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia. 

"There is a lot of development at the moment to create more humane control methods, which might see the gradual phase out of 1080," Jones said.