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1080 is an odourless, colourless and tasteless poison. Used extensively in Australia despite being classified as a “weapon of mass destruction”, millions of toxic 1080 baits are currently being dropped by our government across NSW.

The Myth of 1080: Why does Australia still use such a brutal poison?

But why does Australia still insist on using 1080, and what does it do to animals?

Poison baiting of animals using 1080 has occurred in Australia since the 1950s, with the primary reason it is still used being due to the belief that it is less harmful to marsupials. Yet there has been very little research done to understand its effects on Australia’s native animals.

Any animals - including humans - that ingest 1080 will die a slow, painful death. There is no known antidote. The toxin also causes birth defects and reduced fertility, as well as damage to the reproductive system, brain, heart and other organs.

It works by preventing the body’s muscles and organs from absorbing energy, resulting in failure of the lungs and heart, with a death typically lasting between 8-24 hours for birds and 2-4 days for large mammals.

Death from 1080 poisoning is excruciatingly painful. The first symptoms of 1080 poisoning include vomiting, anxiety, disorientation and shaking. These quickly develop into frantic behaviour including running, screaming fits, drooling at the mouth, and uncontrolled paddling and seizures for up to 12 hours. This is then followed by total collapse and death.

Secondary poisoning is also possible through consuming undigested baits from the stomach of an animal who has vomited up the toxin. Animals poisoned by 1080 may also contaminate nearby waterways, as given the poison is highly soluble it spreads quickly through water and up food chains.

Yet despite the extreme cruelty 1080 inflicts on all animals it comes into contact with, Australia continues to use this toxin to target introduced species including rabbits, pigs, dogs, foxes and even our native dingoes.

These animals are targeted with food baits either injected with the 1080 poison, or through the use of manufactured baits that contain ingredients appealing to animals. Toxic baits are then dropped from helicopters, along trails and by burying the baits in mounds - all left to kill indiscriminately.

And these baits are indiscriminate - because despite claims that 1080 is less harmful to native marsupials, research from as far back as 1982 has shown that marsupials have suffered horrific deaths at the hand of 1080.

The Tiger Quoll, Eastern Quoll and Long-nosed Potoroo are all listed as threatened under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, and all have been shown to be highly susceptible to 1080 poisoning.

Studies carried out by McIlroy (1982) found that long-nosed potoroos are more sensitive to 1080 poison than rabbits, with advice given by researchers clearly stating:

“Because of the greater susceptibility to 1080 of this group than of rabbits, rabbit poisoning campaigns should be avoided in areas which contain these non-target species [long-nosed potoroos]”.

Almost 20 years ago, the Threatened Species Scientific Committee’s advice to the then Minister for the Environment and Heritage stated that in relation to the Tiger Quoll:

“Research at two study sites in southern New South Wales and one in Victoria indicated local declines in the order of 60 - 100% over the past five years, the researcher suggesting aerial baiting for wild dogs with 1080 poison to be the primary cause of these localised population declines and extinctions.”

These are only some of the many native animals known to be susceptible to the horrific effects of 1080 poisoning, making clear that the myth of the poison proving non-toxic to native animals is just that, a myth.

So then what other options are there to undertake humane flock protection and introduced animal control?

There a plenty of options for minimising the perceived damage done by introduced species to agricultural farmland and our environment - yet they are often under researched or under utilised in favour of the toxic alternative.

The long term success of Maremma Sheep Dogs in protecting farm animals is well documented, with farmers using flock guardians losing far less animals to predation compared to those relying on 1080 baits. In fact it is thought that Maremmas, in protecting his or her sheep, not only keep foxes and wild dogs away but also protect local native wildlife from predation.

Electric fencing around property boundaries is another humane option to keep out both native and non-native animals from a particular property - in fact a NSW study has previously shown that wild dogs will by-pass farms with effective electric fencing in favour of those who do not have them, suggesting they are an effective method of protecting all native and non-native animals within the fenced area.

Finally, fertility control, while the most humane option, remains a poorly researched tactic to reduce populations of introduced species in Australia. Oral immunosteralisation is a safe and ethical way to reduce populations of animals from foxes to rabbits, yet government research into this method appears to have ended for unknown reasons in the late 2000s.

The use of immunocontraceptives for foxes appears especially feasible and appears to have been recognised by government, as the the Federal Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts stated in 2008:

“Since foxes only breed once a year over a short period in early winter, fertility control could be applied over a short period of time each year. Targeting fertility may yield an effective long-term approach to reducing fox numbers.”

Because of this, it is the opinion of the Animal Justice Party NSW that research into immunocontraceptives - both oral and dart delivered - is crucial to developing a humane and ethical way to control populations of introduced species in NSW. 1080, and various other deadly methods are not the answer.

All animals deserve respect and compassion, regardless of their status as native or introduced, and the destruction caused by 1080 has no place in NSW or Australia.

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