Joe Bennett: What does predator-free mean? – Northern Advocate

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The Government is targeting only three species of predator in whom there are no votes whatsoever, the rat, the stoat and the possum. Photo / NZME
OPINION
I have just returned from laying rat bait in a 90-year-old’s roof. She’d tried traps. Traps were no good. Poison was the thing, she said. Would I?
What troubled her, she said, was the idea of dying in the night and the rats finding her body before anyone else did. I said that if she was dead it wouldn’t matter all that much, she being the sort of 90-year-old you can say that to.
And she said yes, in theory, but theory doesn’t always tally with reality. You can think something doesn’t matter, and indeed argue convincingly that it doesn’t matter, even while feeling that it matters very much indeed. We are emotional beasties who don’t like to nibbled by rats, even post mortem, no, especially post mortem.
‘”Fair enough,” I said and up the ladder I went with the bait. “It’s a pity it’s not 2050.”
“In 2050,” she said, “I’ll be dead or 118.”
“There is that,” I said, “but what I meant was that by 2050 New Zealand is to be predator-free. Nice Mr Key promised as much a few years ago.”
“Does predator-free,” said the nonagenarian from below as I hauled myself up into the roof space and fumbled for a light switch, “mean a New Zealand where no creature predates another, where the lion lies down with the lamb and all is peace and amity and every animal dies quietly in bed of natural causes surrounded by weeping relatives? Because if so we’ll have to be eliminating the tuatara because it predates insects, ditto the fantail, the native bats, the few and beautiful native frogs, the …”
‘”No, no,” I said, “predator-free is political hyperbole, a form of marketing to encourage the masses to join the cause. It implies a return to a lost Eden, the New Zealand of our imagination, the paradisal chunk of rock that left Gondwana however many million years ago and wandered off into the Pacific with none of the current disastrous predators on board. So the term predator-free does not mean free of all predators, because all forms of life are predatory in one way or another.
“Rather it means that by 2050 we will have eradicated the predators that have been introduced over the years either by design or accident and which have done such damage to our native flora and fauna.”
“The trout will be missed,” she said.
“There are no plans to eliminate trout.”
“Why not?” said the nonagenarian who was clearly in a feisty mood. “Trout are introduced and predatory. Consider the native torrent fish or the Canterbury mud fish. Today they’re both as rare as honesty in the Beehive. And why? The trout has gobbled them up.”
“Trout are different,” I said. “People like them. Trout bring in tourists. Trout are good business. The Government is targeting the bad predators, the ones that do damage to our native species, especially our darling birds.”
“So they’re going to eradicate cats. Good. Did you see the feral cat in the paper this week, the one the bloke had shot? 11 kilos it weighed. That’s twice the weight of a domestic moggie. That’s the weight of a lynx. You don’t get to be a lynx on a diet of shoots and leaves. Imagine how many birds went into that cat. About time we got rid of them.”
“The Government has no plans to get rid of the domestic cat. The people wouldn’t like it. The Government is targeting only three species of predator in whom there are no votes whatsoever, the rat, the stoat and the possum.”
“I thought the possum was vegetarian.”
“It is, by and large, but it does great damage to the bush and it also tucks into the odd egg. I know that isn’t predation as such but it’s good enough. The possum will be gone by 2050.”
“How?”
“That has not been made clear,” I said, setting a foot gingerly back on the ladder. “I’m coming down.”
“So,” she said, “the Government’s vow to render New Zealand predator-free by 2050 will do no such thing. Rather it will just target three of the numerous introduced predators in this country, all three of which it has already been targeting for the last 20 or more years without making any dent in their numbers. In other words the policy is at best an expression of hope over experience and at worst a cynical act of public relations dishonesty with the date pushed out so far that no one will be held accountable.”
“Yes,” I said. “Your roof is baited.”
“Thank you,” she said.

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