Consider the birds

In the USA, the Spotted Owl evokes the spectre of trivial busybody environmentalism. This species has been extremely well propagandised by the forestry lobby and other anti-environmentalists as a symbol for “putting other species ahead of humanity”. But it is not so in New Zealand (although there is Powelliphanta augusta). For a hint of what the public response to Gerry Brownlee’s plan to mine Schedule 4 of the conservation estate could be like, look no further than the firestorm which has erupted over the YouTube video showing Norwegians shooting protected native birds, among other things.


This has been a pretty persistent story. It’s been at or close to the top of the Stuff “most read” list for going on three days now; at the time of writing, it’s #1. It’s third on the NZ Herald website’s NZ section. It was in almost every dead-trees paper with a national news focus in the country on Friday. It’s featured prominently on One and 3 News (and consequently RadioLIVE), Radio NZ National, Newstalk ZB, and is at present the third-placed story on English-language Norwegian news website News and Views from Norway and has made Norwegian-language mainstream news there too, as well as action from Norway’s own environmental agencies. It’s drawn outraged official comment from DoC and the Conservation Minister; but notably not (as far as I can see) from the Minister of Tourism. There are 400-plus infuriated comments on the original YouTube clip, and 300-plus on the Fish’n’Hunt Forum, the oldest and most popular NZ internet site for discussion of hunting and fishing topics. has a poll up, and the results are quite clear, for what they’re worth:

This outpouring of righteous fury has not come about because of the death of a few birds. None of the species shot by these hunters are so close to extinction that the loss of an isolated handful of individuals will critically harm the population. The reason for the response is that this sort of thing offends us deeply and personally. It is antithetical to who we are as New Zealanders, and it is as if a little part of each of us dies with those birds.

I wrote a few days ago that the task for the opposition, for conservationists and those who love the land and its wildlife was to relegate mining Schedule 4 to the “political too-hard basket”. More specifically, that task for those people — and for the 74% of (notoriously reactionary) Stuff respondents for whom these events are a grave injury — is to see the proposal to mine Schedule 4 as the same thing on a much greater scale, which it ultimately is, and to respond in kind.

Update 30 March: A vivid event like the one discussed above often primes the media and public to pay closer attention to similar events which previously might not have been newsworthy. Dog attacks are a case in point. So it is with this case: the release and eventual death of a weka, hardly endangered but well-loved, from Hagley Park, is now news.


13 thoughts on “Consider the birds

  1. You’re right about mining being on a different scale. However it has another dimension in that with mining it is perceived that we will get something tangible in return – I remember one in-favour participant in a vox-pop (they went to the West Coast) on the mining issue sum up his position with ‘the country’s in the shit’. Certainly contrasts with ‘marauding foreigners shoot endangered birds for fun!’.

  2. I’m not so sure about that, SR. While there certainly is a contrast, I think the difference is perception more than reality.

    The economics of the proposed mining in terms of actual net gain in NZ are very poorly-specified, in particular since the proposal seems to be at the lowest possible value of allowing foreign-owned companies to mine whilst clipping the ticket via royalties. There will be some residual economic benefit in terms of revenue in associated services, jobs, income and so on — but there was with these Norwegian tourists, as well. They spent five weeks here, travelled the length of both islands, engaged hunting guides and chartered helicopters, rented accomodation and undoubtedly drank a very great deal of booze in pubs. Tens of thousands of dollars. But for what they did? Not nearly enough. I think it’s a pretty tidy parallel.


  3. It’s pretty common knowledge that the Maori up north hunt and eat the Keruru.
    Customary rights and all that.

  4. What a bunch of hypocrites are those at DOC. Doc kill hundreds of kereru with 1080 poison. Kereru graze as well as eat berries. When 1080 is dropped by helicopter some stays in the trees and is eaten by kereru. I have seen dead kereru after 1080 drops. The fuss made by DOC and the Minister of Conservation about a kereru being shot by tourists is a joke. DOC are the masters of killing them and their total score over the years would be in the thousands.

  5. It’s pretty common knowledge that the Maori up north hunt and eat the Keruru.
    Customary rights and all that.

    Yes, but they are Tangata Whenua, so where they are concerned Lew is mainly concerned there are enough pigeons to go around the dinner table.

  6. Tom, your recent caricatures of me have been lacking their prior inventiveness.

    Geoff, I’ve had this argument enough times to know it’s intractable, and evidence is typically of no use. So I’m reluctant to engage except to say that in a situation like this, you pick your risk factors — in this case, possums and rats, or 1080 — to point you in the direction of research published in the NZ Journal of Ecology which found minimal deaths and a considerable likelihood of population recovery among native species, and to say there’s plenty more where that comes from. I expect that you’ll disregard it as a conspiracy of some sort.


  7. If the keruru population recovers from hundreds of deaths from 1080 why does the Minister make such a fuss about the death of one bird by tourists. Your assumptions about me thinking there is a conspiracy are arrogant. You have no basis whatsoever to make such an assumption.

    When the matter of weka eating carrots dropped as a lure before 1080 was added to the carrots, DOC staff laughed and said they won’t be eating them in a few days. Does the research referred to cover such incidents.

    It seems DOC can do what they like and act all pretentious when someone else kills a single bird. It’s hypocrisy but I guess you miss the point.

  8. I apologise, Geoff, I’m extrapolating to you the views of the dozens of others from whom I’ve heard similar arguments, which isn’t really justified.

    I said I wasn’t going to engage on the merits — that’s another debate, and one which, as I said, is basically futile. But let’s just say that I think your logic is flawed.


  9. I am not sure how me finding dead keruru soon after 1080 drops in both the Wairarapa and on the West Coast makes for flawed logic. Maybe if dozens agree with what I say means that you are wrong. I don’t ever suppose you have considered that possibility.

    On the West Coast in an area where I visit regularly there were several New Zealand falcon or Karearea. They are magnificent hunters and take on prey much bigger than themselves at high speed. Soon after 1080 was dropped they disappeared. The young birds eat carrion but not the adults. The opposums and rats and rabbits killed by the 1080 are eaten by the young Karearea.

    You might like to show me where my logic is flawed. Facts don’t seem to mean much to you and others who kill native birds in the name of conservation. If you kill them don’t get all pretentious and moralistic when someone else does the same. That’s why I say the Minister of Conservation and DOC are bloody hypocrites.

  10. Geoff, you don’t seriously believe that any thing believed by dozens of people is necessarily correct.

    The flaw is that anecdotes seem to be accorded greater evidentiary weight than research. This, I’ve found, is a common thread amongst anti-1080 campaigners, which tends to make them hard to argue rationally with. It’s like climate change in this regard.

    Add to which many of those who opposed 1080 do so out of a general dislike and distrust of DOC which they hold for other reasons.

    So if you’ll excuse me, I’m not going to argue the toss. You’re welcome to your views, of course.


  11. Thank you so much for allowing me to have a view. It’s so kind of you.

    The reason you can’t debate the issue is you won’t listen to any facts from anyone who has seen dead birds but listen to DOC propaganda. My evidence is not anecdotal, I found the kereru myself. 1080 is a shit of a poison that kills indiscriminately. Animals die in agony and thrash around for hours. I have heard that DOC have upped the poison level in recent years.

    We promote NZ as clean green but it’s a nonsense.

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