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Possums target for biological controls

9 December 2004

Possums target for biological controls

More effective, safe and socially acceptable ways to control possum numbers will be achieved by a new research programme funded by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

The research programme, led by AgResearch in collaboration with Landcare Research, will receive approximately $2.5 million per annum over the next 4-8 years.

The Foundation is very pleased this programme brings together the best scientists in New Zealand working in this area. The integration of the two teams should result in better outcomes, achieved more quickly than the two teams working separately.

The programme will see geneticists, molecular biologists and experts in mammalian reproduction working together to develop biological means of controlling possums.

Controlling possum numbers is crucial because they threaten New Zealand's native forests, and compete with native birds and insects for food. They also carry bovine tuberculosis, which is harmful to New Zealand's beef and dairy industry.

Possum biocontrol methods are expected to be more effective than current poisoning and trapping methods, both environmentally and from an economic perspective. The Department of Conservation, the Animal Health Board, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, regional councils and private landowners currently spend millions of dollars every year controlling possums.

Successful implementation of this research would result in significant reduction in spending on possum control by these agencies, Resources could be put into other aspects of biodiversity management including management of other threats.

To ensure the public is comfortable with the biological controls proposed, the research team also includes social scientists. They will consult the public about the methods being developed and determine the factors that should be taken into consideration if such controls are to be used in New Zealand.

A crucial element of the programme is the input of the major organisations responsible for the development and implementation of current possum control in New Zealand - the Department of Conservation, the Animal Health Board, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and regional councils.
Their involvement ensures the new control methods, once developed, will be able to be implemented quickly and efficiently.

Over all, this research programme will aid in reducing possum numbers, and reduce the use of less-humane, non-specific and environmentally damaging poisons.

It will reduce the use of toxins, which are of concern to both conservation managers and to New Zealanders in general.


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