Anyone who's ever dealt with rats in their home knows how hard it can be to completely clear out the pests, but the New Zealand government plans to achieve it on a national scale – and not just with rats. Prime Minister John Key announced this week that the country is aiming to be completely free of introduced predators, including rats, stoats and possums, by 2050.
"While once the greatest threat to our native wildlife was poaching and deforestation it is now introduced predators," says Key. "Rats, possums and stoats kill 25 million of our native birds every year, and prey on other native species such as lizards and, along with the rest of our environment, we must do more to protect them."
The details of exactly how are up to a new joint venture company called Predator Free New Zealand Limited, which will seek out viable predator control projects, and attract co-investors to help scale them up and increase their chances of success.
With introduced pests costing the country's economy an estimated NZ$3.3 billion (US$2.3 billion) each year, the government will invest NZ$28 million (US$19.6 million) into the venture, as well as chipping in an extra 50 percent of the amount invested by local councils and private companies.
Some of the methods currently used by the NZ government in the past have been controversial, including aerial drops of 1080 poison, which can lead to a slow and painful death – and which the NZ government says will continue. But with much of this funding going towards designing new technologies, hopefully less cruel alternatives can be developed.
"This is the most ambitious conservation project attempted anywhere in the world, but we believe if we all work together as a country we can achieve it," says Key.
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