New Zealand's Ambitious Plan to Exterminate All Non-Native Pests

July 25, 2016 | Erica Tennenhouse

Brushtail possum in Brisbane
Photo credit: Brisbane City Council (CC BY 2.0)

By 2050, rats, possums, and stoats may be a thing of the past in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Government has announced its plan to wipe out all introduced predators by the year 2050.

Elimination of all animals considered as pests, including rats, possums, and stoats, is expected to protect native birds, like the flightless kiwi, who are threatened with extinction because the pests devour their eggs and compete with them for food.

Introduced species kill 25 million native birds a year in New Zealand, cost the New Zealand economy and primary sector an estimated NZ$3.3 billion (US$2.3 billion) per year, The Independent reports.

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The government would initially contribute NZ$28 million (US$20 million) over four years toward setting up a company to run the extermination program, and may partially match money contributed by local councils and businesses.

“Our ambition is that by 2050 every single part of New Zealand will be completely free of rats, stoats and possums,” said Prime Minister John Key in a statement, according to the Associated Press.

“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.”

Emeritus Professor of Conservation Mick Clout from the University of Auckland tells The Guardian that if the plan is achieved, it will be a “remarkable world first”.

“The biggest challenge will be the rats and mice in urban areas,” said Clout. “For this project to work it will need the urban communities to get on board. Possum extermination will be the easiest because they only breed once a year and there are already effective control methods in place.”

Jacqueline Beggs, an ecologist from the university, tells the Associated Press that although New Zealand has succeeded in eradicating rats from several of its smaller islands, this is a whole other challenge, and getting buy-in from farmers and anti-government types would prove much more difficult.

"It's definitely a fantastic challenge," she said. "It will really stretch the boundaries."

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