Editorial: Here, piggy piggy, piggy

Last updated 05:00 08/03/2014

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OPINION: The term "splendid isolation" seems to have been coined to praise Britain's disinclination to meddle in European affairs back in the late 19th century.

Some would say that to live in southern New Zealand is to live in splendid isolation, even in these days where people are becoming increasingly interconnected by means of technology and travel.

But perhaps the most emphatic example of a modern context for that phrase is to be found on the Auckland Island, where pigs were released in 1807, for the benefit of shipwrecked sailors.

The population, topped up in the 1840s, is now, simultaneously, a pest and a treasure.

For good reason the pigs are being lined up for eradication, alongside other long-ago introduced critters like mice and cats.

They have been playing merry hell with the other wildlife.

But their isolation has also led the snorters to become, as a short-film maker put it, "the cleanest pig", emphatically free of the assorted viral diseases that have afflicted their species worldwide.

Now Conservation Minister Nick Smith has returned from a sub-Antarctic journey ready to bring some back for the research benefits they may offer.

This is hardly an innovation, as Southlanders will be well aware.

An admirably farsighted group called the Rare Breeds Conservation Society brought some back to Invercargill in 1999, after which they became the centre of political controversy when Mayor Tim Shadbolt stumped up for their rapidly increasing feeding costs. Appetites sated, they set about making little pigs, which markedly increased the expense.

Biotechnical company Living Cells Technology eventually became involved and in 2008 the Government approved company trials to treat diabetics using pig cells.

A $2.5 million hi-tech, disease-free building housing 50 pigs was opened in 2009. Testing has more recently expanded to Russia and Argentina.

For a while there the pigs were seen as one of Mr Shadbolt's follies but the abiding awareness of local economic benefits, and potential worldwide health ones, have swept that view aside. As it should be.

For his part Mr Shadbolt has gone to some pains to point out that although it was assumed he was responsible for the project success, it was a council staff member, the late Ross Fraser, who championed the project and later left to work fulltime on it.

The prospect of another contingent of the pigs coming to New Zealand is itself an agreeable one, albeit coming with a sense that this may be a case of the Government weighing in late.

Just what the research for the new intake would involve, who would undertake it, and where the pigs would be kept and the work done, are questions that southerners should be quick to ask and follow up.

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Because just as there are advantages to be had from splendid isolation, there are times when it's wiser to get out there and network.

- The Southland Times

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