New Zealand, finally fed up with invasive predators that have pushed native species to the brink, announced Monday that is waging war against all such predators and vowed to wipe them out by 2050.
"While once the greatest threat to our native wildlife was poaching and deforestation, it is now introduced predators," Prime Minister John Key said in a written statement.
"Rats, possums and stoats kill 25 million of our native birds every year, and prey on other native species such as lizards and, along with the rest of our environment, we must do more to protect them," the statement added.
The country has a notable history when it comes to invasive species. Much like other countries, certain species of animals were introduced to the area in order to supplement the local economy or as pets. In this instance, the species introduced to the New Zealand ecosystem was the Australian Brushtail Possum in 1837, in order to establish a fur trade.
Initially protected in order to increase their numbers for the fur trade, history has shown that they likely didn't need any protection at all. The cat-sized marsupials thrived in New Zealand, and their population exploded, killing native trees and competing with native animals and birds for food.
Unfortunately, New Zealand has more to worry about than just possums. The likes of other invasive predatory species, such as rats and weasels, have served to put various native birds, such as the kiwi, in a precarious situation.
It's important to note, however, that there have already been plenty of attempts to combat these species in the past. The Department of Conservation has killed off plenty of these predators on smaller outlying islands with traps and poison dropped by air, and similar techniques have been employed in order to combat rats and other predators in protected areas on New Zealand's two main islands.
However, flat-out declaring war against these species by expanding their efforts to cover the whole country is entirely new territory and will no doubt cost the government quite a sum of money. The government is already planning to contribute $20 million over four years toward setting up a company to run the problem, and may consider partially matching money contributed by local councils and businesses.
However, $20 million only scratches the surface of how much this program could require. Back in 2015, a study by the University of Auckland estimated that a program of this type could cost more than $6.2 billion over 50 years — a superior alternative when compared with the $11 billion-plus cost to agriculture were the government to otherwise manage such pests over the same period.
Aside from the potential costs, the government has something else to worry about due to this plan: public outcry.
Animal rights activists and celebrities might complain about the plan due to the use of poison and traps to kill a larger amount of animals — similar to what happened last year when Australia announced a similar plan to eliminate millions of feral cats.
In the meantime, the effort, which Key described as the "the most ambitious conservation project attempted anywhere in the world," goes beyond protecting native species. For example, killing off possums and ferrets will help protect livestock by curbing the spread of bovine tuberculosis.
"Possums and ferrets are the main carriers of bovine TB, which is a very destructive disease for cattle and deer," Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said in a statement.