Kea can't resist eating 1080 baits

Researchers trying to find ways to prevent kea from eating 1080 bait are unlikely to be ready for a planned increase in pest control this year.

With the Department of Conservation (DOC) set to increase use of 1080 across the South Island to counter an expected rat and stoat plague, research is still in progress to find a way to prevent the world's only mountain parrot from consuming the poison.

Since 2008, 155 kea have been monitored during 10 drops of 1080. Twenty (13 per cent) died after the toxin drop.

DOC technical adviser Michelle Crowell is leading the research to test repellents that it is hoped will limit the number of kea killed by 1080 poisoning.

One repellent, a food additive that gives a peppermint taste shown to irritate birds, was tested last year around Arthur's Pass but five of the 39 monitored birds still died after eating the bait. A second repellent is being trialled in the hope that consuming a non-toxic pellet laced with the compound will leave birds feeling ill and prevent them from later eating toxic pellets laced with the repellent.

Kea Conservation Trust chairwoman Tamsin Orr-Walker said the "intelligent and opportunistic" birds were "primed" to investigate disposed foods around areas they frequently met humans, and this might contribute to some birds being attracted to 1080 pellets.

With further testing required before another trial can be run, it is unlikely a repellent will be ready for DOC's proposed 1080 project aimed at curbing an increase in predator numbers.

The Press