Catherine de Medici might have considered wildlife poisoning schemes medieval
Let me tell you about the birds and bees, and the cats and the rats, and the possums and the pigs, and the technocratic descendants of Catherine de Medici at USDA Wildlife Services, Threatened Species Strategy of Australia, and Zero Invasive Predators of New Zealand, who imagine they can poison their way to a world resembling not chaotic nature, but an artificially orderly work of art.
Catherine de Medici, 1519-1589, a leading patron of the arts and for 12 years queen of France, allegedly poisoned her way to influence while striving continually to make peace among warring Catholic and Huguenot factions, each of whom imagined the world might be more perfect without the rest.
History credits Catherine de Medici with religious tolerance extending well beyond the norms of her time and place, as well as with introducing the use of the table fork to France.
Historians also question whether Catherine de Medici ever actually poisoned anyone. She might merely have taken advantage of the sudden deaths of various of her enemies from viral infections and ingesting contaminated food to whet a murderous reputation that kept suspect people away from her court.
At worst, however, Catherine de Medici poisoned her victims one at a time, for specific reasons having most to do with self-preservation and the safety of her children.
Mass poisoning schemes
USDA Wildlife Services, Zero Invasive Predators of New Zealand, and Threatened Species Strategy of Australia are pursuing mass poisoning schemes aimed at eradicating entire allegedly invasive species, over state-sized islands and even whole continents, with substances that could kill from thousands to millions of non-target animals as well, including humans.
These mass poisoning schemes, moreover, are not to be confused with the routine use of relatively mild agricultural insecticides and fungicides to protect food crops, or sporadic use of rodenticides to protect food in storage.
Those practices, widely recognized as ecologically hazardous since Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962, have long since been relatively closely monitored and regulated. The agricultural chemicals of Carson’s time have been replaced and reformulated time and again with updated versions and alternatives meant to do less collateral damage to non-target species, break down more rapidly and surely within a few days of deployment, and have fewer lingering effects.
Pesticides & unintended consequence
At that, even conventional use of agricultural chemicals continues to run afoul of the Law of Unintended Consequences.
For example, neonicotinoid insecticides, introduced by the Swiss chemical firm Bayer AG in 1985, were acclaimed as much less harmful to birds and mammals than insecticides in the much older organophosphate and carbamate chemical families.
Neonicotinoid insecticides over the next 30 years came to be by far the most used category of agricultural chemicals––but proved to be entirely too effective against too many insects, killing not only those who ravage crops but also those, especially bees and butterflies, who pollinate them.
With 40% of invertebrate pollinators in drastic decline, the European Union restricted use of neonicotinoid insecticides in 2013, but the U.S. has yet to act, despite record losses of honey bee colonies in recent years and mountains of studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals confirming the magnitude of the damage.
Curing bacon & sausage
The Natural Resources Defense Council in October 2017 filed a lawsuit seeking to cancel the Environmental Protection Agency registrations of neonicotinoid insecticides, claiming that they were approved “without consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as required under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.”
But the longtime antipathy of the Natural Resources Defense Council toward “non-native” species is part of the cultural and political rationale behind a USDA Wildlife Services scheme to poison feral pigs with sodium nitrite, euphemistically described in a January 26, 2017 media release as “a preservative used to cure bacon and sausage.”
Indeed, sodium nitrite is used to cure a variety of pork, beef, and fish products, but the use level is limited by federal law to 156 parts per million of sodium nitrite, with intent that much less than that should actually be consumed.
One sixteenth of an ounce can kill you
However, the World Health Organization, International Agency of Cancer Research, and a University of Oxford team all warned in October 2015 that consuming processed meats, including those processed with sodium nitrite, could lead to markedly elevated risk of contracting colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancers.
These warnings followed more than 50 years of earlier medical warnings, including attempts to ban sodium nitrite from use in food products altogether.
Sodium nitrite has some medicinal applications, specifically in killing bacteria, but a dose of 4.6 grams, about a sixteenth of an ounce, is enough to kill either feral pigs of average weight or the average 130-pound adult human.
Focusing on killing pigs, USDA Wildlife Services intends to experimentally deploy baited doses of sodium nitrate “in early 2018 in dry west Texas and continue around midsummer in humid central Alabama,” the December 26, 2017 media release said.
What happens when poisoned pigs are scavenged by bobcats, coyotes, alligators, bears, raccoons, and birds of prey?
Well, USDA Wildlife Services kills those species too.
What happens when pigs survive poisoning long enough to be shot and consumed by human hunters?
We know what can happen, from accidents involving accidental sodium nitrite ingestion with mutton soup and milk in China in 2004 and 2011, which killed three children, put four people into critical condition, and altogether sickened about 150 people.
About the feral pig menace
Apart from the widespread but ecologically unfounded view that the only good “non-native” animal is a dead one, farmers have some reason to be concerned about feral pig proliferation. Feral pigs can do significant crop damage, where lack of sturdy field fencing allows them access. Feral pigs can also transport and transmit diseases afflicting factory-farmed pigs, as in Georgia, Ukraine, Russia, Lithuania, Belarus, Poland, and the Czech Republic, where wild boars have contributed to the runaway spread of African swine fever since 2007.
“First reported in domestic pigs in eastern Africa in 1921, African swine fever is harmless to humans but kills up to 90% of pigs, causing internal bleeding and fluid-filled lungs,” summarized Eric Stokstad in the December 20, 2017 edition of Science. “Herds with infected animals must be culled to fight it. The virus spreads through sick animals’ secretions and can survive for long periods on workers’ clothes and shoes or hay, which helps it move from farm to farm. It can also leap even farther when people transport contaminated pork,” Stokstad added, “which will infect pigs or boar if they eat the scraps.”
But feral pigs do less harm than pig-dogs
But neither African swine fever, foot-and-mouth disease, Japanese encephalitis, nor any other disease associated with large numbers of free-roaming pigs occurs in the U.S. or Canada at present. Feral pigs have many predators, including alligators, bears, pumas, and not least, the cannibalistic habits of adult boars.
Though associated with declines of some native species, feral pigs create habitat for others, notably burrowing animals, and are rarely ever a threat to humans, in contrast to pig hunters’ dogs, mostly pit bulls, who run amok.
Australia deploys Curiosity to kill cats
The USDA Wildlife Services’ pig-poisoning scheme, however, is small potatoes compared to the Threatened Species Strategy of Australia scheme to try to eradicate feral cats, using a “new” poison called Curiosity, actually a variant of sodium monofluoroacetate, better known as Compound 1080.
Developed in Germany in 1942, ostensibly as a rodenticide but also used to kill human prisoners, Compound 1080 is odorless, has no taste, and is lethal if ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through skin contact.
Apart from the Nazi experiments, at least 13 humans have been killed by Compound 1080 accidents and use as a murder weapon.
Nixon banned it; Reagan brought it back
Manufactured in the U.S. since 1956 by Tull Chemical of Oxford, Alabama, Compound 1080 was commonly used to kill coyotes until 1972, when use was prohibited, by order of then-U.S. president Richard Nixon, to protect wildlife. Nixon did not, however, ban manufacturing Compound 1080 for export to nations including Australia, Israel, Mexico, New Zealand, and South Korea.
In 1985 former U.S. President Ronald Reagan amended Nixon’s order to allow the use of Compound 1080-coated sheep collars, meant to kill coyotes as they bite the throats of the sheep.
ANIMALS 24-7 exposed the details of the Australian putsch against cats in January 2017; see Aussie feds inflated feral cat population 3 to 10 times to push cull policy.
As Vox Felina blogger Peter Wolf later detailed, the density of feral cats in Australia is about a third less than the density of Starbucks franchises in Chicago.
ZIP New Zealand
But even the Threatened Species Strategy of Australia use of Compound 1080 seems sparing compared to that of Zero Invasive Predators of New Zealand, a scheme pushed by New Zealand conservation minister Maggie Barry to eradicate all “non-native” predatory mammals by 2050, using methods that Catherine de Medici, an apostle of the Renaissance, would probably have considered crudely medieval.
New Zealand has already led the known universe in Compound 1080 deployment since circa 1990, annually distributing as much as 90% of world output per year in a thus far futile effort to exterminate brush possums.
Despite intensive poisoning, recently explained Will Harvie, innovation reporter for The Press of Christchurch, New Zealand, brush possums “eventually re-populate treated areas and repeat applications of 1080 poison are needed every three to five years.”
Killing ’em twice as dead
Therefore Zero Invasive Predators, ZIP for short, recently doused a nine-square-mile tract “at the confluence of the Jackson and Arawhata rivers, south of Haast in South Westland,” Harvie reported, with about twice the standard volume of Compound 1080.
“There were an estimated 18,400 to 34,500 possums living on that wedge, according to a survey done in June,” Harvie wrote. “Surprisingly, there were almost no rats in the wedge.”
Two months after the Compound 1080 mega-dosing, accomplished by helicopter, and involving baiting all the way to the edges of watercourses instead of leaving a safety buffer to prevent fish kills and other harm to aquatic species, ZIP boasted that “The complete removal of possums and rats appears to have been successfully achieved within the treatment area.”
Destroying biodiversity to save it
“This is possibly the first time that aerial 1080 has been shown to successfully remove all rats and possums from a site,” ZIP continued in a project summary. “If we are successful, and we also successfully develop techniques to prevent possum and rat invaders from re-establishing, then the large-scale repeated application of aerial 1080 may no longer be necessary to protect New Zealand’s biodiversity.”
The ZIP comment may recall, for some, the claim of a U.S. major that during the 1968 battle for Bến Tre city, “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,” reported by Associated Press correspondent Peter Arnett.
“As 1080 was used,” Harvey noted, “other animals were also found dead in the sample bloc – three deer and seven birds, two of them native tomtits.”
Said ZIP chief executive Al Bramley, “We’re not pretending those numbers are the only things we killed.”
ZIP is now planning to do similar saturation poisoning over an area four times as large.
False analogy to Alberta
Harvie compared the ZIP program to how “The Canadian province of Alberta has successfully defended a line of longitude against invading rats since the 1950s,” thereby demonstrating, in his view, that “it’s possible to keep an area about three times the size of New Zealand essentially rat-free.”
But Harvie concedes that “Alberta has many natural advantages when it comes to rats. Long, cold winters suppress rat numbers. Their spread in warmer months is stopped by the tall Rocky Mountains along the west border, ‘badlands’ along the south border with the U.S., and boreal forests in the north.”
Alberta also has abundant predators, both mammals and birds, including foxes, coyotes, bobcats, ferrets, hawks, owls, and eagles, whose usual prey include ground squirrels, mice, and prairie dogs, and has a considerable number of feral cats and barn cats, as well, who help to do rat patrol along the relatively open Alberta border with Saskatchewan.
Without the predator help, it is doubtful that the annual rat inspections done of every building within three miles of the Saskatchewan border could be very effective.
Killing kea is not saving them
Meanwhile, New Zealand pesticide policy critic Jo Pollard, Ph.D., charges that the ZIP strategy of poisoning “non-native” species to protect endangered birds is counterproductive––especially to protect kea, a large alpine parrot.
“Aerial poisoning with food baits laced with sodium monofluoroacetate was found to be killing kea more than 50 years ago and the species is now on the brink of extinction,” Pollard explains on the EnvirowatchRangitKea web site.
“In Department of Conservation studies over the last decade, an average of 12% of marked kea have been reported dead immediately after aerial 1080 poisoning, with a range up to 78%,” Pollard notes. “Now,” with “even more intensive, more extensive 1080 poisoning, there seems to be little hope for the species’ survival in the wild.
“According to the Department of Conservation,” Pollard continues, “it is pests that are endangering kea. Therefore the outcome of poisoning will be beneficial. There are serious flaws with this idea.
Mice, rats & stoats
“Firstly, aerial baiting with 1080 poison is very poor at controlling pests, including mice, rats and stoats,” Pollard argues. “Mouse numbers rise almost immediately afterwards; it is thought mice may be able to detect the toxin in food baits and that they flourish because competing species are poisoned off.
“Rat numbers are usually (not always) low immediately after poisoning, but they breed and re-invade rapidly and within months are typically far more numerous than before, often reaching plague levels. Stoats are sometimes killed, sometimes not. They have to eat poisoned prey to die, because they do not eat the cereal baits. Survivors and invaders can flourish post-poisoning as numbers of their main prey species––rats and mice––escalate. Surviving stoats are also known to turn to eating native birds after poisoning, when rat numbers have suddenly plummeted.
“The Department of Conservation’s answer to this problem,” Pollard writes, “is to now increase the frequency and intensity of poisoning. However that strategy does not help with the problem of non-acceptance of poisoned baits by mice. Whether rat and stoat numbers will be better controlled is unknown. In previous Department of Conservation operations, repeated 1080 poisoning has become increasingly less effective because pests have developed behavioral and/or genetic resistance.
“One thing is for sure,” Pollard concludes. “Kea and other rare native species will be severely at risk.”
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