New Zealand is waging a battle against invasive pests that the country says is costing the local economy around NZ$3.3 billion ($2.3 billion) annually.
According to New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, predators such as rats, possums and stoats kill 25 million of the country’s native birds each year. They also prey on other native species such as lizards. Where the greatest threat to the native New Zealand wildlife was poaching and deforestation, today the country also has to deal with invasive predators.
To that end, the government is creating an organization called Predator Free New Zealand who will oversee the use of fences, traps, poisons and other means meant to wipe out these invasive vermin. An initial investment of an extra NZ$28 million ($20 million) will be put into the initiative, adding to the NZ$70 million ($50 million) already committed by the government.
However, total eradication efforts are estimated at around NZ$8.7 billion ($6.2 billion), spread over 50 years. Even so, if the efforts are effective, it could end up costing the country significantly less than doing nothing. Agricultural losses caused by these pests have been estimated to reach up to NZ$15 billion ($11 billion) over the same time-frame as the initiative.
“This is the most ambitious conservation project attempted anywhere in the world, but we believe if we all work together as a country we can achieve it,” says Key.
Should the project prove successful, scientists believe this will be the world’s first massive, coordinated conservation effort of this scale. The biggest challenge, they note, is eradication of urban pests such as rats and mice. This will involve the complete support of urban communities. Possum extermination will be the easiest given they breed only once a year.
Even with the staggering cost of allowing the proliferation of the invasive species, the plan does have detractors. Since the venture involves the large-scale eradication of animals (regardless of whether or not they are considered ‘pests’) the team is expecting some opposition and controversy. A similar plan to control feral cat populations in Australia was derided as cruel.