Saturday, February 14, 2009

NZ Day 11: Ten Eighty

Until today, I associated 1080 with the number of scan lines in a High Definition video signal.

Apart form its incredibly beautiful landscapes and rain forests, New Zealand has another specialty. When the islands were discovered by Captain James Cook in 1769, there were only two mammal species present on the Island. Two types of bat. Over the years a fair number of exotic mammals and birds were introduced into New Zealand's eco-sphere. Some accidental others deliberately. At some point in the 19th century the settlers believed that it would be best to turn New Zealand's eco system into a European one and deliberately released a fair number of Euro animals. Some of the animals had rather disastrous effects on the ecological balance. For example the native, non flying birds like kiwis and penguins had a very hard time. But also since there were no predators present the populations of the introduced species grew dramatically.

These days the Department of Conservation (DOC) is charged with handling the mess. They are doing that amongst other things by killing off large percentages of the introduced rodents and possums. In the south west of the south island they are using the pesticide sodium monofluoroacetate or short 1080 (ten-eighty) for this. Carrots treated with 1080 are droped over the target areas. The carrots get eaten by the rats and possums ... To make sure humans do not accidentally eat the poison carrots they are painted bright green. To deter birds they are seasoned with cinnamon.

Killing of large animal populations is a rather drastic measure. Logically there are also groups who are fiercely opposed to poisoning our furry friends. Also there is an ongoing debate about validity of DOCs assurances of 1080s biodegradability. Some of these groups post friendly warnings in the forest. This is how I got into figuring out what it was all about.

All afternoon I was thinking, how we would handle a New Zealand type situation today. Obviously on Earth we had our chance and messed it up. But what, if we ever found life on another planet. I guess, taking everything into account we could never land there. Even fully decontaminated, a human would bring in so many micro life forms, that this could proof terminal for the affected planet. Or if he did land on the other planet, he could never come back for the same reason.

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