New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern received death threat over government’s use of pesticide
- The poison, known as 1080, is the government’s primary tool for eradicating pests such as possums, stoats and weasels
- The government insists 1080 is safe but protesters have intensified their efforts this year as the control programme has continued
The New Zealand prime minister has been the subject of a death threat from environmental campaigners who have intensified their opposition to the government’s use of the poison 1080 to tackle invasive wildlife.
Jacinda Ardern told a local television station on Tuesday that she had received a number of threats from anti-1080 protesters, including at least one threat against her life, but said she was more concerned about increasing levels of harassment and violence to conservation staff.
As opposition to the use of the pesticide has grown over recent months, department of conservation (DoC) staff have had their tyres slashed and wheel nuts loosened, been locked in national parks by protesters blocking exits, received verbal and social media threats, including death threats, had protesters threaten to shoot down DoC helicopters, and dodged wires erected through DoC helicopter flight paths.
In September anti-1080 campaigners left dozens of dead native birds on parliament steps. Toxicology tests later showed the birds had no traces of 1080 in their systems.
“When we see that tip into violence or threats of violence against people just working on the front line and doing their job then that concerns me,” Ardern said.
Conservation minister Eugenie Sage accused the activists of spreading “fake news” regarding the poison, which DoC states “leaves no permanent or accumulative residue in water, soil, plants or animals” and “presents little risk to humans or the environment.”.
However despite the government’s assurances that 1080 is safe protesters have intensified their efforts this year as DoC has stepped up its nationwide control programme as it works towards making the country pest-free by 2050.
The poison – which is the chemical compound sodium fluoroacetate – is the government’s primary tool for eradicating pests such as possums, stoats and weasels, but campaigners say it threatens native wildlife, pollutes rivers and waterways and is dangerous to humans and domestic animals.
DoC director general Lou Sanson said the uptick in intimidation was “extremely nasty” and the police were now involved.
On Wednesday police arrested an anti-1080 activist and charged him with four counts of blackmail regarding threatening letters he had sent to DoC staff in New Plymouth over the past year.
At least one DoC ranger is on leave after being subject to violent threats regarding 1080.
“DOC staff need to be able to get on with their job of protecting conservation areas without fear of being harmed or harassed,” Sanson said.
Sanson said 1080 was “the best tool” for pest control in rugged or remote areas and native forests would be devastated if the poison was not used to target invasive species and give native and endemic species a chance to recover.
According to data released by DoC there were less than 10 threats against DOC staff in January of this year but that number has increased month on month. In October more than 90 incidents were recorded, with most threats taking the form of verbal abuse against staff, followed by social media harassment and social media threats.
DoC staff have been confronted and abused in cafes, on isolated roads and in forests as well as offices. One Facebook message to DoC read: “if my daughter is effect by 1080 poison due to it being tossed into our water supply, I myself will find each of you doc muppets and slaughter the skin off your faces and have you living inches before death”.