New Zealand fights 'plague' of stoats and rats

File image of a stoat Image copyright Keven Law
Image caption New Zealand has declared war on the European invader

The New Zealand government has given the go-ahead for the poisoning of "a plague" of rats and stoats which it says threatens the country's native wildlife.

A controversial bio-degradable poison, called 1080, is to be dropped onto one million hectares (3,861 sq miles) of forest to kill the pests, TV New Zealand reports. Government figures suggest that without intervention the rat population could increase tenfold this year to 30 million. The rise is attributed to a heavy fall of seed in the country's extensive beech forests.

It's thought that once the forests' supply of fallen seeds is exhausted, the predators will turn on native birds. According to Conservation Minister Nick Smith, the lives of millions of kiwi, kaka and kea birds are at stake. "Our kiwi will not exist in the wild for our grandchildren if we do not act now," he said.

The use of 1080 is opposed by some environmental groups. Campaigner Nicky Calcott told the New Zealand Herald there's little proof of the "plague", and said that 1080 has also been known to kill the endangered kea bird, native only to New Zealand's South Island. However the government, which has sunk NZ$21m (£10.8m; US$18.5m) into its "Battle for our Birds" programme over five years, insists that setting traps for millions of predators is not a viable or practical option. "People are dreaming if they think we can do this without poisons like 1080 - you can't trap 30 million rats," Dr Smith told Radio New Zealand.

Stoats, introduced to the islands by European settlers in the 19th Century, pose a greater threat to avian populations and number around 25,000, New Zealand Herald reports.

Image copyright Alan Liefting
Image caption New Zealand's kea bird is one of the species threatened by predators

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