A six-week blitz on possums and ferrets has begun in an effort to work out the cause of an outbreak of bovine tuberculosis (TB) in the region.
Contractors began laying traps on a farm near Pihama yesterday as part of a $250,000 control programme on 8000 hectares of South Taranaki farmland in response to TB outbreaks that started in January.
Any animals trapped will be bar-coded and their age, sex and the location where they were caught entered in a database so they can be traced to the properties where they were found, should autopsies find TB.
"The days of just catching possums are gone," Greg Fitzgibbon, of Central Districts Pest Control, said. Gathering information was the way of the future, he said.
Possum traps were laid mainly in shelter belts among trees, while ferret traps were laid alongside hedgerows in the paddocks.
The leg-hold traps did not injure the captured animals and were checked every 24 hours to ensure animal welfare.
By also catching feral cats and rats, the traps did farmers a favour, Mr Fitzgibbon said.
John Deal, of the Animal Health Board, said the control programme was a reaction to the TB outbreak, but also a precautionary measure.
"It's about eliminating potential causes.
"If we can say it's not from the wildlife, then it will enable us to focus on other potential sources."
Such potential sources included the movement of animals or the possibility that it has been in the herd some time, but not shown up in testing, he said.
No record exists of TB in a possum in Taranaki, although the animals are the most common source of the disease in New Zealand.
Mr Deal said he wanted to strongly remind people it was illegal to release wild animals such as pigs, because they were a potential source of TB.
"There are fairly strong penalties."
He said farmers in the area were encouraged to keep any possums they shot in the freezer if possible, and hand them in for testing.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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