1080 Frequently Asked Questions

What is 1080?

1080 is a manufactured version of flouroacetate, a naturally occurring chemical
produced by many plants that grow on high fluoride soils. These soils are found in
Western Australia, Sri Lanka, Eastern India, South Africa and South America.

How is 1080 used?

The main use of 1080 is in baits that are designed for consumption by possums.
There are two types of possum baits:

- carrot baits weighing 6-9 grams,
- cereal baits about the size of a thumb.

The baits are usually distributed by helicopters using satellite positioning systems at an application rate that means that three baits will land in an area of forest about the size of an average three bedroom house. The baits are dyed dark green and treated with a cinnamon lure which attracts the possums but repels birds.

How effective is 1080 on rats and possums?

When correctly applied, 1080 is very effective. One aerial application of the poison can kill 98% of possums and more than 90% of rats in the targeted area. On top of this is collateral damage to other pests through secondary poisoning. This ‘triple hit’ of our three major bird predators provides a breeding window for birds to boost their populations.

Does 1080 remain in the environment?

1080 is bio-degradeable, so it breaks down and does not remain in the soil or
waterways. Most 1080 operations are done in Winter and Spring – seasons in which
wet conditions help the toxin to break down. GPS navigation is used to ensure that areas within 50 metres of a waterway are not treated with 1080.

Is 1080 used in other countries?

1080 has been used on a small scale in a number of countries including Australia, United States, the Galapagos Islands, Israel and Japan. It is used sparingly in these countries however because of their need to protect their native mammals.

Why does New Zealand use 80% of the1080 produced worldwide?

We use the most 1080 because we need to control the damage done by introduced
mammalian pests. New Zealand is unique as we have only two native species of land mammals – the short tailed and the long tailed bats. Everywhere else in the
world native mammals are an integral and important part of the ecosystem, so the
use of 1080 - which is particularly effective against mammals - is restricted.

Is New Zealand the only country which uses aerial distribution of 1080?

No. In Western Australia 1080 baits are aerially distributed over more than five
million hectares to control introduced foxes and introduced feral dogs that prey on a
range of native marsupial species. Because the marsupials of Western Australia
have evolved over millions of years in the presence of 1080 in much of their
vegetation, the local marsupial predators have quite a high tolerance to 1080, unlike
the introduced pests.

Does 1080 affect our water supplies?

1080 is highly soluble and dilutes quickly. Research conducted by NIWA showed that 1080 deliberately placed in streams was undetectable after 8 hours. The maximum amount of 1080 residue allowed in drinking water is 2.0 ppb. This has never been breached.

Of the 2442 water samples tested by Landcare Research between 1990 and 2010, 96.5% had no detectable 1080. Six were equal to, or above the Ministry of Health’s level for drinking water but none of these samples were taken from water supplies.

By comparison,1080 occurs naturally in black tea leaves from India and Sri Lanka - brewing a normal cuppa will give you about 5ppb of 1080 in your tea, which is 1.5 times the drinking water limit.

How does 1080 affect freshwater species?

Landcare recently conducted a study whereby they placed 10 times the number of 1080 baits that would be expected to enter streams. It showed there was no detectable effect on aquatic life in streams.

In separate studies in NZ and the US 100% of the fish fed 1080 baits survived and showed no ill effects. This study has been replicated many times over in eels * and koura**

Does 1080 kill native animal species?

The amount of 1080 bait used to get effective predator control has been greatly reduced in the last twenty years. We now use 10 times less 1080 bait per hectare than was commonly used then. Bait quality is now carefully controlled and baits are dyed dark green and have cinnamon lures which attract the possums but repel birds.

These changes have greatly reduced accidental by-kill of native species. Tomtits and robins are the most vulnerable native bird species, but as they are prolific breeders they recover quickly and thrive as a result of the reduced predation that follows successful 1080 operations.

Of the 150 kea that have been directly monitored, 20 (12%) have died after having ingested baits. But in every area the improved nesting success rate has more than made up for those losses. DOC now does not to use the baits in open spaces above the forest edge, and a kea repellant is being trialled. 

To see the video about this click here 

Does 1080 kill deer?

Sometimes feral deer are killed by 1080 operations, particularly where deer numbers
are high and the understorey plants have been eaten out so deer are more likely to
find 1080 pellets and eat them. Deer are a major conservation pest in New Zealand.
High deer numbers prevent forest re-growth and sometimes, in combination with
possums, browsing by deer can cause serious forest collapse. With deer numbers
increasing following the end of commercial helicopter hunting, more needs to be
done to reduce deer numbers in our native forests.

Does 1080 kill dogs?

Dogs are particularly sensitive to 1080. Dogs are usually poisoned if they eat the
carcass of a dead animal (such as a possum or rabbit) that has been killed by 1080.
A lot of effort is put into informing the public about where 1080 operations have been
carried out. Roads and tracks leading to these areas are signposted with warnings to
dog owners to keep their dogs away or muzzle them. Local vets are advised before
1080 drops are carried out, and, contrary to popular belief, vets are able to save dogs
suspected of eating 1080 using the antidote acetamide up to four hours after ingestion.

Does 1080 have any effect on human health?

There have been no recorded cases of 1080 causing harm to human health, let alone
any deaths of humans due to 1080 poisoning. Long-term, low-level exposure is not
harmful – tea drinkers consume 1080 at about 1.5 times the drinking water limit with
every cup of ordinary tea. All over the world millions of people have been regularly
consuming 1080 for centuries with no discernible ill effects.

Does 1080 effect our insect populations?

Post 1080 monitoring of insect populations has shown that they are resilient to 1080, with only a small fall in numbers. In a recent surveys no impact was found in populations of -

  • Weta on Waipoua forest
  • A range of invertebrate species on Rangitoto island,
  • Predatory insects on Mapara reserve
  • Invertebrates on Puketi, or Tiritiri Matangi reserve (source: AHB document -www.landcareresearch.co.nz/publications/downloads/AHB_1080_review.pdf).

Why can’t we use alternative pest control methods?

Hunting and trapping are alternatives to 1080 in only a limited number of circumstances. These methods are very labour-intensive, require easy access, and are seldom enough to have more than locally significant effects on possum population densities. By comparison, well-managed aerial 1080 operations achieve a 90% reduction in possum populations over large areas of rugged and inaccessible country.

What about introducing a possum bounty?

As much as we would like to think that a possum fur/meat industry backed by government incentives could replace government funding of pest control, past experience shows that unfortunately it is not that simple.

Typically bounty hunters tend to move on to another area when hunting pressure in one place has made possums scarcer and, therefore, more time-consuming to catch. Even when the price of a possum skin reached the equivalent of $20, the human catch rate of possums (about 2 million skins a year) still represented about 10% of the natural breeding rate (about 20 million+) and those that were caught tended to be from the easily accessible areas.

Indeed, a bounty creates an incentive for people to create business for themselves, and this is just what an entrepreneurial hunter did in the mid-1960s when bounties were in place. The hunter released possums into possum-free Northland, an area that contains out last major population of North Island brown kiwi.

What kind of research is done into other methods of pest control?

The Department of Conservation spends $8 million dollars annually in alternative pest control methods. There are at least 30 research projects underway industry-wide to find improvements in the use of 1080, alternatives to 1080 and other related topics.

How has the application of 1080 changed over the years? 

The average sowing rates of 1080 cereals has steadily fallen from over 30 kg of bait per hectare in the 1950s to under 2kg of bait per hectare today - the equivalent of about four baits in an area the size of a tennis court. Landcare research, along with DOC and the AHB is also conducting trails looking at reducing sowing rates to just 250g of 1080 baits per hectare - an eighth of the current sowing rates.  

*. Fisher, P. (2008), Brief of Evidence of Penelope Mary Fisher, Landcare Research. p 5 (4.5).)
** Suren, A and Bonnett, M (2006), “Consumption of baits containing sodium fluoroactetate (1080) by the NZ freshwa¬ter crayfish”. New Zealand journal of marine and freshwater research 40, 169-178.