No plans to eradicate island pigs

The Department of Conservation has no eradication plans for the Auckland Island pigs because of a lack of money, says a programme manager.

Pete McClelland said he was aware there were rumours that an eradication of the pigs, which eat the eggs and young of many of the rare bird species on the island, was planned.

But unless someone had a spare $22 million, the proposal that was put forward in 2007 to cull the pigs would remain shelved, he said.

He said it was amusing that, even with the job cuts in Invercargill being announced, there was still an idea that the department would be spending that kind of money on an eradication programme.

Though the value of the pigs had increased since it was found the rare breed – kept in isolation on the island for 200 years – was the only known breed of pig in the world that could be used in a ground-breaking trial to treat diabetes, the department still wanted them off the island.

The pigs had probably done all the damage they were going to do on the island since they were taken there as a food source, Mr McClelland said, but their presence made recovery of the affected bird species impossible.

There was also a threat of the pigs swimming to pristine Adam Island, only 100 metres away.

Mr McClelland said so far it had been protected by the strong tidal currents flowing between the islands.

It was hard to estimate how many pigs were still on the island. Mr McClelland said the department believed there were between 500 and 1000.

Venture Southland enterprise and strategic projects group manager Steve Canny said Living Cell Technology – which has used cells from Auckland Island pigs to treat diabetes – was understood to be making a decision on the commercialisation of its product by December.

Living Cell Technology chief executive Bob Elliott said the second phase of the trial was successful so far, but there were no certainties on its expansion yet.

The private company was hoping to have a commercial product by 2013, though the results had not been finalised.

About $10 million would be needed to create the facility to keep more pigs coming off the Auckland Islands – in addition to the 50 pigs at the base near Invercargill.

Initially, 15 pigs were rescued from the Auckland Islands in 1999. Dr Elliott said it was the company's good luck the pigs were put in quarantine. There had been testing done on pig's cells in other pig herds found in isolated areas with cold climates – such as the Torres Strait and the Marquesas Islands – therefore they had "an inkling" of the purity of the Auckland Island pigs.

The essential part of their isolation was the cold climate, which killed any parasite.

"They are the only ones we've managed to find," Dr Elliott said. "They are exceedingly valuable."

The Southland Times