Radical Eradication: wiping out New Zealand's predators

Workers fill a monsoon bucket on a helicopter with pellets designed to kill possums near Greymouth, New Zealand Workers fill a monsoon bucket on a helicopter with pellets designed to kill possums near Greymouth, New Zealand Lakeview Images
02 Sep
2017
As part of New Zealand’s plan to cull millions of predators, scientists are consulting the public about controversial gene technology

Last year, the government of New Zealand announced its commitment to eradicate millions of possums, stoats and rodents in a bid to improve the survival chances of its declining native species – particularly its birds. The project, predicted to take decades, will involve a ‘scaling up’ of eradications already carried out on a number of its uninhabited islands, where toxins were scattered by helicopter. A key difference, however, is that the national scheme might involve an as-yet uninvented genetic modification technique called ‘gene drive’ technology.

The technology might, for example, involve editing rodents’ genes so they can only produce male offspring, before releasing them to mate in the wild. The ‘drive’ element means the daughterless trait would be more likely to be inherited than unmodified genes, causing eliminations in relatively few generations. It’s likely the project would learn from larger gene drive efforts – such as US trials on malaria-bearing mosquitoes.

For such a plan to happen, however, the population of New Zealand needs to be on board. ‘We are surveying the attitudes of thousands of New Zealanders towards such novel pest control techniques,’ says James Russell, an ecologist at the University of Auckland and research co-ordinator of the country’s ‘Predator Free’ plan. Russell believes gene drives ‘have the potential to be very controversial’, especially given  the country’s history of being anti-genetic modification when it comes to food.

He hopes the survey results, which are due at the end of this year, will show how residents break down into different groups when it comes to GM rodents: ‘There might be people who are anti-toxin that are relieved. And then there could be people who are anti-toxin but think that gene editing is even worse.’

He stresses that the project must align with the national mindset – that it is as much a social transformation as it is a biological or technical one. ‘We are in the unique position with technological developments that we are able to carry out these large-scale eradications,’ he says. ‘However, we are not going to have a predator-free New Zealand just on breakthrough alone. It needs to be what the human population wants to see happen on its islands.’

This was published in the September 2017 edition of Geographical magazine.

Share this story...

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to Twitter

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

LATEST HEADLINES

Subscribe Today

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth UniversityUniversity of GreenwichThe University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    REDD+ or Dead?
    The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme, under which developing nations would be paid not to cut dow...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Oceans

A study of various fish populations has found dramatic reductions…

Geophoto

The seasonal changes of September promise much photographic potential for…

Oceans

Shipping traffic can increase lightning strikes, according to a pioneering…

Polar

New documentary travels to remote Antarctica to unpack the complex…

Oceans

The deaths of these majestic creatures had remained an unsolved…

Wildlife

Over a two-year period, a new species of plant or…

Wildlife

As part of New Zealand’s plan to cull millions of…

Oceans

A project to map the ocean floor is raising concerns…

Climate

Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This…

Wildlife

Dismay as a Spanish baby dolphin becomes the latest victim…

Polar

Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This…

Oceans

The effect of plastics on the world’s oceans is posing…

Geophoto

Camera technology may have come a long way since the…

Energy

The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn…

Wildlife

Despite their high profiles, most of the world’s national animal…

Oceans

Asian countries are pledging to reduce the amount of land-based…

Geophoto

There’s a world of visual wonder beneath the waves but…

Energy

A short, summer eclipse in America has solar power generators…

Climate

A dramatic increase in dust storms across the western United…

Climate

Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This…