1080: The Facts

Tue 19 Apr 2011: 1080: The Facts

Expert Content Management System

What is 1080?

1080 (sodium fluoroacetate) is a naturally-occurring toxin found inmany plants throughout the world. Plants have developed it as a natural defence against browsing mammals. The active ingredient in 1080 is found naturally in tea and also appears to occur in puha.  It is manufactured for use in various types of baits for pest control
operations and is highly toxic to mammals in particular.

What does it do to the environment?

1080 is highly water soluble and breaks down in the environment into harmless substances.2 It does not accumulate in the food chain or in the soil.3 Any animal ingesting a sub-lethal dose of 1080 will metabolise and eliminate the substance within 10 days.

Why is it used in New Zealand?

1080 has been used on a small scale in a number of countries, including Australia, the United States and the Galapagos Islands (Equador), but its use has been limited because of the need in these countries to protect native mammals. New Zealand, however, unlike almost all other countries, has no native land mammals (except bats), but a very large number of introduced, highly destructive mammalian pests, including possums, rabbits, rats, stoats, ferrets and feral cats.


The effectiveness and safety of 1080 as we use it in New Zealand has been the subject of many studies and extensive published scientific research over the past 30 years. Some key findings:

Between 1990 and May 2010 extensive water monitoring (2442 samples) was undertaken after a large number of aerial 1080 operations. This is a requirement of the Ministry of Health and more recently has been required for ERMA watchlist reporting purposes.

The following are examples from the programme:

  • After 34 different aerial 1080 operations in the Wanganui area between 1990 and 2008, 76 water tests found no trace of 1080 in any domestic reticulated water supplies.
  • In 2006, a set of trials was conducted in four streams on the West Coast, using 10 times the number of 1080 baits that might normally be expected to enter streams during aerial treatment. These trials showed that even this large number of baits had no detectable effect on aquatic life in streams.

The conclusion of this extensive water monitoring programme was that there is no risk to human health from the aerial 1080 operations currently being undertaken in New Zealand.  For more information visit www.1080facts.co.nz/water

Food chain

  • Trials show that 1080 is rapidly biodegraded by aquatic and land plants, and by micro-organisms in water and soils.
  • Trials also show that animals ingesting sub-lethal doses of 1080 rapidly excrete the poison or metabolise it into non-toxic products. All traces of the poison in live animals are gone within 10 days.
  • Fish were fed 1080 baits in separate studies in the United States and New Zealand. Of the fish tested in both trials, 100 percent survived and none showed any ill effects.
  • Sausages containing 1080-poisoned possum meat were also fed to eels in the New Zealand study. After eating all of the sausages, all of the eels survived and none became ill. The eels rapidly eliminated the toxin from their bodies.

Bird populations

  • DOC monitors bird populations and bush health following 1080 applications in many parts of the country. Long-term assessments demonstrate that native bird populations are not damaged by 1080, and indeed that most native bird species show net benefits, especially from the impact of the ‘triple predator’ by-kill effect of aerial 1080, referred to above. The benefits for native bird populations of effectively taking out three major predators at once are in some cases spectacular.
  • Some inadvertent by-kill of native birds has been recorded, but is more than made up for by the subsequent increase in populations. Up to 50% of kea nests are wiped out where they are unprotected from predators. Since 7 kea died in an operation in 2008, DOC have been working with the Kea Conservation Trust on intensive research to determine how to prevent this recurring in future. No further kea deaths have been recorded.

Insect populations

  • Monitoring of ground-based insect populations show minimal loss of insect life from 1080, and an increase after aerial 1080 targeting as a result of reduced insect predation from introduced mammalian predators.

The ERMA Review

The Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) is New Zealand’s independent public watch dog, and is charged with analysing all actual and perceived risks to the New Zealand environment. During 2007 ERMA undertook a rigorous, comprehensive review of 1080, including a series of nationwide public hearings. All interested parties were invited to present written and oral submissions to an independent committee. The committee spent four months of intensive deliberation, which included an independent analysis of all the scientific data. ERMA concluded that the benefits of using 1080 clearly outweighed the risks, and approved its continued use in aerial and ground applications, subject to strict controls.

Case studies

Kāpiti Island
In 1983 Kapiti Island was made possum-free. This programme involved two thirds ground control covering the accessible areas and aerial application on inaccessible areas (around 17% of the island). Native vegetation kohekohe, rata, and fuchsia rapidly recovered. By 1988 monitored native bird densities had doubled.

Rangitoto Island
Prior to a 1990 possum eradication programme using 1080, Rangitoto Island’s pohutukawa forest was dying. Rangitoto is now ablaze with healthy pohutukawa, flowering throughout the summer. Monitored bird life records show that since possums were eradicated there are 10 times more tui and silvereye living on the island. Honey production on the island pre-1080 possum control was 7kg per hive. One year later it rose to 25kg per hive, and two years later it was 50kg per hive.

Kahurangi National Park
Kahurangi National Park was suffering declining populations of native snails. In 1997 a major aerial 1080 targeting was undertaken. Pre-1080, there were 54 snails found on a 500sq m grid. One year after 1080 was applied, 147 snails were found on the same plot.

Tongariro Forest
Nationwide studies show that on average only 5% of kiwi chicks survive to adulthood. Prior to an aerial 1080 application in Tongariro Forest in 2001, 32 kiwi chicks were radio tagged. After the 1080 programme, 40% of the radio-tagged chicks survived to adulthood.

Pureora Forest Park
In Pureora Forest Park 20 kaka were radio-tracked in an area to be treated with aerial 1080 in 2001. In nearby Waimanoa Forest, which was not to be treated with 1080, nine kaka were radio-tracked. In the area where 1080 was used, all 20 birds survived that season. Of the nine birds tagged in the untreated area, five were killed by predators that same season.

Hurunui, Hawdon and Eglinton valleys
The South Branch of Hurunui, Hawdon and Eglinton valleys all had substantial populations of mohua. All three populations declined during the 1990s and all collapsed to very low levels during a rat and stoat plague over the 1999-2000 season. After a comprehensive pest control programme, including aerial 1080 application in 2006 mohua are now abundant in areas that received treatment but have declined elsewhere.

Whirinaki Forest
During a 1998 to 2002 study in Whirinaki Forest 17 kaka and 15 kereru were radio tagged and monitored throughout an aerial 1080 operation, and for two weeks afterwards. All of the 17 kaka and 15 kereru survived in the area treated with 1080.

In total, 73 kaka have been radio-tagged and monitored through four 1080 drops. In two studies they were monitored for a year afterwards. Every single bird lived.

To read the full document on "1080:  The Facts" click here.

Questions and Answers on 1080, (NPCA)

« E hoki ki muri
Copyright © Taiao Raukawa | Researched and compiled by Shar Gardiner | He Mihi / Acknowledgements