Mixed feelings (gemfyre) wrote in wtf_nature,
Mixed feelings

The blessing that is Sodium Flouroacetate

Look! A cute animal!

That there is a Numbat, the faunal emblem of Western Australia. I'll do a post all about him later, but he does feature in what I'm posting about this evening.

Australia has one of the worst rates of extinction in the world - especially among small mammals from 50g to 5kg. This is known as the critical weight range or more simply "the size of animals that foxes and cats most like to hunt and chow down on". (Yes, there are actually quite a few native mammals that weigh less than 50g!)

Anyway, one key cause of these extinctions and population crashes was of course due to the introduction of foxes and cats to our fair country. It actually took them a few tries to get foxes established, and now some morons are persistently trying it in Tasmania (you'd think we'd learn but noooo). Foxes were introduced to eat the introduced rabbits so both could be hunted - the rabbits for food and the foxes for "sport".

Broad scale clearing of habitat and habitat degradation by weeds, rabbits, horses, cattle, goats, camels, deer, any other hard hooved or fast breeding mammal we care to bring in, also contribute to these losses of native fauna.

Meanwhile, Aussie farmers were having to remove thickets of "Poison Pea" Gastrolobium from their pasture because it killed sheep and cows dead. And in the U.S.A. farmer's were using a chemical called Sodium Flouroacetate - commonly known as 1080 to kill coyotes that were attacking their sheep.

Turns out those poison peas contain huge amounts of this 1080, and the introduced species dropped dead almost on the spot after consuming the leaves. And a light bulb went off in the heads of scientists and conservationists.

In South-west Australia, the poison pea is most prevalent, it's also an area where 80% or so of the native habitat has been cleared for wheat crops. Add to that a plethora of introduced rabbits, cats and foxes and the native animals in this corner of the country were disappearing left, right and centre.

Cue 1080. The poison is now injected into meat baits and spread throughout reserves where it effectively controls foxes (cats are more of a challenge, due to their tendancy to ignore old meat), and poisoned wheat takes care of rabbits.

You see, because the 1080 was contained in the leaves of a plant that was common, native animals, which ate the plant - or ate the animals that ate the plants, had built up an immunity to it, so even if they do take the baits, mortality from poisoning is very low.

The Western Shield Project has now been running since 1996 and is one of the most successful wildlife protection programs in the country. Many critters have been brought back from the brink due to this chemical.

All about Sodium Flouroacetate
All about Western Shield

Some of the species rescued by this project are - the Numbat (pictured above).

The Greater Bilby - also known as the Long-eared Bandicoot.

The Boodie, correctly known as the Burrowing Bettong.

The Brush-tailed Possum. Regarded as a pest in some urban areas, but overall in decline.

The Quenda, or Southern Brown Bandicoot (we like giving animals multiple names here).

The Woylie, properly known as the Brush-tailed Bettong

The Tammar Wallaby
Tags: australia, extinct, mammal, marsupial
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