Missed opportunities in the SPCA controversy

Posted by: Jessica Devitt @Colette_Keeha

Last month I was closely following the news and debates that were sparked by the RSCPA of New Zealand’s (herein SPCA) official stance on the use of 1080 in pest control.

Figure 1. Ban 1080 protesters speak to Newshub (Newshub, 2018).

The SPCA wants the toxin 1080 (aka sodium monofluoroacetate) banned because it considers the toxin an inhumane way of reducing pest animal populations.  The SPCA further notes that it does not regard one type of animal as more deserving of life than another, arguing there is no justification to control pest animals in the first place, and that ways to allow conflicting species to ‘co-exist’ should be encouraged.

I am pro the use of 1080 based on the positive outcomes it has for native species. I am in agreement with the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment that 1080 is the most effective invasive species management tool that we have at this point in time.


Figure 2. A large male L. barbicornis guards a female drilling an egg-laying hole (Painting, 2013).

I was a financial supporter of the SPCA for several years with monthly, albeit small, contributions. I decided to withdraw my support for them post their 1080 statement, and instead I promptly spent my money on joining Forest and Bird, whom I had never financially supported but always wanted to.

I did actually think quite a bit about this before doing it – I am not a big fan of ‘cancel culture’, so I did not want to boycott the SPCA over one disagreement, and part of me felt like I was doing that. However, realistically I had to look at the bigger picture and I realised that their statement and some of the attitudes expressed within it do not align with me.


In fact, the ongoing debate made me realise that although the thought of native species loss filled me with genuine sadness, it did not always spark the same kind of outrage that I got from seeing domestic animals harmed or neglected by humans. I never really looked at the loss of native species as an animal welfare issue, when actually it is. I academically understood the issue of native species loss, but it is not something that I am reminded about regularly with visually disturbing pictures; like what is often seen with domestic animal abuse.


Figure 3. Possum and rat both preying on a thrush nest (Nga Manu Images, n.d.)

My issue with the SPCA’s statement, was in retrospect, more to do with how they went about stating their position rather than me expecting them to be pro 1080 or agree with its use.  Their statement was very one-sided, completely failing to grasp the complexities of the situation. It briefly notes reproductive control of pest species as an alternative option. However, this is not a straight forward fix. Reproductive control is not an option for most of New Zealand’s mammalian pests as there is no way currently this can be applied at a scale that would lead to significant reduction in pest numbers. Furthermore, applying reproductive control has its own set of problems – adding reproductive hormones to the environment has many downstream impacts on non-target wildlife, and surgically sterilising then releasing animals still leaves them hunting and killing native wildlife for the rest of their lifetime.


Figure 4. Gene editing (Luecke & Steadman, n.d.).

The SPCA firmly stands on the side of ‘ban 1080’ by supplying links to ways in which you can support a ban, but fails to give other options, such as supporting your local environmental group or donating funds to Predator Free NZ or Forest and Bird for their continued research on predator control. Both of these organisations are interested in finding alternatives to 1080.


Figure 5. Predator Free NZ logo (Hill, 2018).

The press release reads more as an individual’s viewpoint and something that would have been more fitting in a blog (such as this) than a press statement by a large well-established organisation.  The release appears out-of-place in comparison to the other press releases on the website. Looking over the past year of press releases I could not see any big statements taking a side on other topical animal welfare issues such as the horrors of the dairy industry, horse racing, rodeo, releasing pets into the wild, trapping, and other poisons besides 1080.

I am not surprised that the SPCA does not endorse the use of toxins for pest control; I think this would be expected from any animal welfare group. I also think it’s pretty clear from the subsequent debate that everybody would like a more humane method of pest control. I think that the SPCA really missed an opportunity here to offer up other ways in which people can support pest free New Zealand without necessarily jumping straight to ‘ban 1080’.


Figure 6. Community conservation groups. (Department of Conservation, n.d.)


Addendum: Forest and Bird met with the SPCA on January 22nd to discuss their position on 1080. The SPCA clarified that their position is to encourage more research and development into alternative non-toxic pest control methods.  Forest and Bird also stated that the SPCA will amend it’s statement to reflect this (@Forest_and_Bird, 23rd January 2019, https://twitter.com/Forest_and_Bird/status/1088258572612333568).

Here is a list of some of the organisations that are currently working to find alternative means of pest control:

Biological Heritage National Science Challenge

Predator Free New Zealand

Genomics Aotearoa

Forest and Bird

The Royal Society of New Zealand

Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research

Department of Conservation

Here is are a couple of links that connect people to local conservation efforts:

Department of Conservation

Conservation Volunteers New Zealand



Jessica Devitt is a PhD student at the Centre for Biodiversity & Biosecurity, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland and Plant and Food Research. She is researching the respiratory responses of the golden-haired bark beetle to advance fumigation techniques. She is supervised by Jacqueline Beggs from the University of Auckland, Adriana Najar-Rodriguez and Matthew Hall from Plant and Food Research.



Department of Conservation. (n.d.). Community conservation groups. Retrieved https://www.doc.govt.nz/get-involved/volunteer/groups/

Hill, C. (2018). Predator Free NZ logo. Retrieved from https://predatorfreenz.org/about-us/pfnz-logo-332-by-222/

Luecke, J. & Steadman. (n.d.). Gene editing. University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved from https://www.labroots.com/trending/genetics-and-genomics/8655/crispr-edit-genes-outside-cell

Newshub. (2018) Ban 1080 protesters speak to Newshub.  Retrieved from https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2018/09/ban-1080-protesters-descend-upon-parliament.html

Nga Manu Images. (n.d.) Possum and rat both preying on a thrush nest. Retrieved from http://www.ngamanuimages.org.nz/image.php?image_id=459

Painting, C.J. (2013). A large male L. barbicornis guards a female drilling an egg-laying hole, demonstrating the extreme sexual dimorphism in this species. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Zealand_giraffe_weevil#/media/File:Lasiorhynchus_barbicornis_male_and_female.png

Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. (2007). Rat attacking bird’s nest. Retrieved from https://teara.govt.nz/en/introduced-animal-pests


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