Monday, 24 October 2011

Oh, deer!

There are deer in the forests around my house. We know people who regularly shoot deer around here for the freezer. Also considered a “pest” species in New Zealand (like the possum—see previous blog entries), red deer are open season year ‘round. Having grown up in North America where deer hunting is an autumn activity, I am deeply saddened when I hear gunshots in the spring, knowing a doe might be killed, leaving a fawn to die of starvation. A friend offered me a haunch spring-shot venison once; I declined on personal ethical grounds.

Earlier this year I saw a dead deer by the creek that flows past my house. At the time, I wondered if it had been wounded by a hunter and got away, to die by the creek. A friend half-seriously suggested I should scramble down the bank and carve a few chops off the carcass for the freezer. The bank is a steep one, and I didn’t go down to investigate, but it did seem odd that for days after that, the carcass lay there, a brownish hump in the streamside willows, seemingly without significant decay, not even bloating, in spite of warm weather.  But I’m no expert on the decomposition of dead bodies, and wasn’t curious enough at the time to go closer. Finally, several weeks later, after heavy rain raised the creek’s water level, the dead deer carcass was washed away downstream, out of sight and out of mind.

The memory of that deer carcass came back, though, when I was reading W F Benfield’s book “The Third Wave: Poisoning the Land”, and a more chilling possibility than hunter-wounded-deer occurred to me. The forested hills around my house have been aerial dropped with 1080 poison, and poison baits are laid for possums. In Benfield’s book, there are photographs of dead sheep, creekside, who have sought water in a vain attempt to ease the excruciating pain caused by ingesting 1080 poison. Elsewhere in the book he writes, “Remains of possum or deer may sometimes be found by creeks as they seek water to easy their agony.” Seven tasty cereal-based baits, he explains, are enough to kill the average hind, and LandCare estimates a red deer kill rate of up to 54% of the population (and up to 75% of fallow deer population) following a poison drop[i].

Now this bothers me on several levels. First of all, in spite of [highly questionable] claims that 1080 breaks down easily into harmless by-products, it is widely acknowledged that animals which feed on 1080-poisoned carcasses ingest toxic 1080—hence the ban on dogs (which are highly susceptible to the poison) in areas where 1080 has been dropped or laid. So, what is to say that the deer someone shoots in the hills around my home and sticks into the freezer for dinner hasn’t been sampling 1080 baits? Do I want to eat that? (According to Benfield, “Japan already bans the import of New Zealand wild harvest foods because of 1080.”[ii])

Secondly, 15% of the Wellington area water supply comes from the hills around here[iii]. Now they claim that 1080 breaks down quickly in water[iv], but the prospect of 1080-contaminated carcasses in my drinking water (or direct contamination from aerial drops) is not a comforting thought for me.

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