Clyde Graf: New Zealand's long-term use of 1080 is poisoning forest ecosystems and could drive birds and insect populations to extinction

Interviewed by

Lisa Er

Clyde Graf: New Zealand's long-term use of 1080 is poisoning forest ecosystems and could drive birds and insect populations to extinction

We must demand rigorous ongoing and independent testing as to the effect of aerial 1080 drops on New Zealand’s wilderness, fauna and ecosystems.

Clyde Graf and his brother Steve were introduced to the outdoors by their father, Egon. For a period spanning 30 years, Egon Graf was a professional deer hunter, based in Te Urewera National Park.

In 1996, Egon’s youngest son Steve made a trip to Canada, with his video camera, captured some amazing wildlife footage. Upon his return he teamed up with his brother Clyde, and together they began to make The Graf Boys' videos.

Since then, The Graf Boys have produced six hunting and outdoors DVD titles, and two documentaries. Their documentary, Poisoning Paradise, has won four international awards (England, Ireland, Japan, and Culture Unplugged online festival).

See their You Tube Channel The Graf Boys.

The movie Poisoning Paradise is about the aerial dispersal of 1080 throughout New Zealand in order to kill rodents, mustelids and possums. This poisoning now has become a highly controversial topic with conservationists, environmentalists, and members of the public.

What is 1080? 

Sodium fluoroacetate, known in pesticide form as 1080, is the organofluorine chemical compound with the formula FCH₂CO₂Na. This colourless salt has a taste similar to that of sodium chloride and is used as a metabolic poison.  

1080 is extremely toxic to all air-breathing organisms. It blocks the body’s muscle and organ's ability to absorb energy from its food, and results in a slow and inhumane death, typically 8 -24 hours for birds, 2-4 days for large mammals. There is no known antidote for this deadly poison.


Not only is 1080 highly toxic to mammals, birds and insects- one scientist has even discovered that it is toxic to plants and so forests do not do so well after 1080 drops.  

The former may be controversial, but in general 1080 and its effects on animals through primary and secondary poisoning, and on humans through water supplies, is not well researched, especially considering the huge amount of 1080 poison tipped from helicopters over our forests. If there are any unanswered questions about its use and the results, then more research must be undertaken, not only by DoC (Department of Conservation) but by independent scientists, preferably from overseas, to avoid any collusion.

In this interview Clyde gives important information on the New Zealand government’s financial interest in 1080. New Zealand uses 80% of all 1080 used in the world. In fact it is banned in most countries overseas.

Bird Deaths

19 different native bird species have had corpses test positive for 1080 after aerial 1080 operations, however, it is known that the small sample size, and the lack of a control group needs highlighting. There is a need for long term population monitoring. These concerns are completely absent in DoC summaries.

Birds reported killed by 1080 poisoned cereal baits include morepork, weka, tomtits and grey warbler, and fauna known to eat cereal bait include kea, kaka, little spotted kiwi, kokako, saddleback, kakariki, pukeko, insects, koura and lizards.

Possum Numbers

The number of possums in New Zealand was estimated at 47.6 million in the mid 1980’s. When possum control is taken into account, the number of possums has reduced to an estimated 30 million as of 2008/9. This is not a very large reduction when considering both the environmental and the financial cost of the large scale poisoning operations.

In a Landcare Research document 2009 it states:

“Control of possums alone may not always have net benefits for native biodiversity because, for example, of the increase in rodent numbers, and hence predation on native animals, that can occur when possum numbers are reduced (Ruscoe et al. 2008).”

This is important because once the ecosystem is no longer managing itself and is interfered with by humans, it no longer functions so effectively. “It takes one year for rat populations to come back to pre-poisoning levels. By the second year rat numbers were higher than before the operation”, Dr Ruscoe from Landcare said. Scientists warn that this paves the way to rat plagues.

Poisoning from 1080 occurs through eating the dosed baits (cereal pellets) or from the flesh of poisoned animals. Carcasses remain poisonous until they are completely decomposed, which makes 1080 particularly lethal to dogs.

Dog Deaths

The Life Style Block (LSB) website states regarding dogs and 1080:

“Dog owners should take particular care near areas where 1080 poison has been used as dogs are extremely susceptible to the poison.

There is no antidote and it causes every appearance of extreme distress in dogs, and the signs can last for hours before the dog dies. It’s very distressing!

Poisoned carcasses can remain poisonous to scavenging dogs for many months if they have been preserved in very dry conditions.”

Death from 1080 poisoning typically involves nausea, vomiting, convulsions, pain and foaming of the mouth, and can take anywhere from 1-72 hrs, depending on the species and the dose. From an animal rights perspective, we should not be allowing such an extremely painful death. Possums stoats and rats are not the only animals to die this way. Other wild and domestic animals become unintended kill, and it persists through the food chain.

Animal rights organisation SAFE has concerns over 1080 use and calls it a “cruel and indiscriminate poison”.

Do we as humans really have the right to kill sentient beings in such a gruelling manner?

Drinking Water?

Clyde is now involved in a new web site which will become live shortly ( if it isn’t already). On the home page it asks the question, “Do you drink bottled water sourced from New Zealand forests?” The question is relevant not only about bottled water but about water coming to us from such places as the Hunua dam in Auckland, which is fed from streams that have been in 1080 drop areas. Can we trust the DOC and health board information we are given when we know that government has financial conflicts of interest? Listen to the interview for more on this.

Scientific Overview

In 2009, Scientists Pat and Quinn Whiting-OKeefe presented to Taupo District Council on 1080. They included the following information: 

“First, there is not a single scientifically credible study showing that aerial 1080 when used on the mainland is of net benefit to any species of New Zealand’s native fauna. Thus the upside for native species is entirely unproven, despite 15 years of increasingly desperate attempts by DoC to show one.

Second, there is overwhelming evidence from DoC’s own research that aerial 1080 is killing large numbers of native animals, including birds, insects and other invertebrates. Moreover most native species remain entirely unstudied. Thus there is plenty of proven downside for native species.

Third, there is not a single ecosystem level study. That is, we don’t have the slightest idea of unintended consequences and secondary negative effects of which ecological science assures us there are many.

Fourth, while it is probable that possums, if unchecked, would in time cause some shift of tree species in our forests, the degree of that shift is not great and fear of canopy collapse is wholly unwarranted.

Fifth, DoC’s 1080 research is generally of poor scientific quality, is biased in favour of DoC’s agenda, and DoC chronically and systematically misrepresents what their own scientific research actually shows.

Sixth, regarding bovine tuberculosis (TB), AHB’s own research shows that there is a clear alternative: ground-based baiting with species-specific bait stations. Plus possums as a vector for bovine TB can be controlled by trapping or ground-based baiting solely at the forest pasture margins to a depth of 3-4 km.”

Clyde points out that New Zealand is classed as being free from TB, and that only 50 possums have ever been found to have been infected with TB.

The Whiting-O’Keefe’s are two retired PhD scientists from the USA were interviewed about the problems of 1080 by - in 2010. 

Alternative Strategy 

In an article in The Otago Daily Times, rheumatology professor and keen tramper Fiona McQueen gives a solution to New Zealand’s pests, after being shocked at what was seen in Fiordland.

“An alternative strategy would be to incentivise possum trapping, boosting the fur industry and relieving unemployment in areas such as the West Coast. This could be achieved without the grim reality of ‘‘by-kill'' and allow our international ‘‘clean and green'' image to regain some credibility.”

This interview with Clyde Graf was sponsored by The Awareness Party

Leave a Comment

Lisa Er

Lisa Er

Born in the UK Lisa emigrated with her parents to New Zealand at the age of 16. Already politically active Lisa has continued to have a passionate interest in peace, politics, and the philosophy behind what we do.

A primary school teacher for 14 years, Lisa then turned her hand to business and created the well known Lisa's Hummus, which she sold a few years ago. Now Lisa is immersed in creating a better political system via