New Zealand: Can You Close Pandora’s Box?

Pandora’s Box. A mythical Greek object given to the first women on Earth. Pandora. A box that contained all the evils of the world, which, as we all know, Pandora foolishly opened. New Zealand. An Island in the southern western Pacific Ocean, with a human population of just under 4.5 million. I’m sorry, where exactly is the link here? Don’t worry, we’ll get there. Eventually. So, what’s going on in New Zealand? Well, if you hadn’t already heard, New Zealand has  been in the news for making one very controversial announcement: that they are going to attempt to eradicate all invasive species.

Not one. Not two. But all invasives. Rats, stoats, feral swine and possums are all included in the eradication ‘list’ and this plan has been announced as an attempt to protect many native bird species such as the Kiwi bird (70,000 birds remain) and the Kakapo (126 birds remain). The New Zealand government has stated that its native flora and fauna is vital to the countries identity and, as invasives are responsible for the loss of millions of native birds every year, they hope to be invasive free by 2050. Invasive species have been a major problem in New Zealand since the 1800s, when many species of mammal, such as the rat and stoat were introduced. Since then, populations of many ground nesting birds and populations of species such as the lesser short-tailed bat, have declined dramatically. But how is this plan to be achieved? Well, poisoned baits and trapping are the main methods of eradication and the success of such methods has been demonstrated on other Islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the South Atlantic’s Island of South Georgia. However, both of these Islands are considerably smaller in size than New Zealand, have fewer invasives and considerably less humans. In addition, poisoned baits are very indiscriminate in what they target, but conservationists have suggested that adding certain flavours and scents to baits, such as cinnamon, will keep many native species from feeding on them.

Despite the announcement of this plan, it may already seem flawed, as the government of New Zealand has already recognised that the target of eradication by 2050, is currently, not achievable. What? So why set it?! Well, the hope is that as technology evolves, new technology will eventually be invented that will help New Zealand to achieve its target. In addition, to this, there is another controversial aspect of announcing the eradication of all invasives. They’re clever, they’re furry, and for the most part, little divas. Cats. In New Zealand, cats are of course an invasive, but have not been included in the eradication plan. No, New Zealand’s government have steered clear of that issue, as there is no doubt that, when it comes to their pets, the public response would be far from understanding. So, instead, they are urging people to keep their cats indoors and when they’re not indoors, walk them on a lead (I don’t think any cat would be very impressed by that).

Now, I know. There is one more question to answer: what about Pandora? Well, this afternoon, this announcement by New Zealand happened to be a topic of discussion on a popular radio chat show, with many questions being asked such as ‘Is it fair?’ and ‘Isn’t it cruel?’ There were of course arguments for all sides of this topic, but one caller labelled the plan ‘foolish’ and ‘unachievable’. In their words “pandora’s box has already been opened. Let’s not interfere anymore.’ I liked that analogy, hence the title. So, what was his point? Quite simply that humans interfering in nature is never a good idea. But surely, if these are invasive species, spread by humans on ships and as a means of controlling other species (stoats introduced to control rabbits), then we have already interfered! Therefore, should we not try to remedy our actions? Well, this is of course the thinking behind most invasive species control. However, it was then argued that rats, stoats and others, would have found another way to spread, with floating logs and tsunami’s being suggested as possible pathways of spread.    Kakapo

Now, we may all have our own opinions on that, but can we really wash our hands of, and close our eyes to a problem? There is no doubt that humans have had a monumental impact on species populations, habitats and biodiversity through a range of methods, with invasive species being a particularly devastating one. Even if it is true that these invasives would have floated across on a few logs, would they all have survived? Would as many of them have been transported on logs than they would have on a rather large, rather comfortable and rather sheltered, ship? Probably not. So, what do we do? Do we leave these species alone and say goodbye to others such as the Kiwi and Kakapo? Or do we take action and try to protect a broader range of biodiversity?

Regardless of whether you agree with New Zealand’s plan, or whether you consider it achievable, should they not at least try? Our Earth’s biodiversity has already been dramatically damaged as a result of human actions and some of that damage is now irreversible. So, if they can, should New Zealand not try to protect their native species to the best of their ability, even if the problem cannot ever be completely resolved?

Did Pandora not try to close the box?

Follow me on twitter for wildlife photography and nature news @DaisyEleanorug

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Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard
I have been a bird enthusiast since I was a child and have just completed my MSc at Newcastle University on 'Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Management.'
Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard

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