Wednesday, 26 April 2017

This couldn't backfire, could it?... Possum bounty edition

Geoff Thomas wrote in the New Zealand Herald earlier this week:
We are going to get rid of all rats by 2050. Really? After killing all the rats in the mountains and forests and farms, how do they propose getting rid of the rats that live under most of the houses in New Zealand? Pet cats kill rats. They do a great job. But as long as you have pet cats, you will also have wild cats.
There is a partial solution which would tick a lot of boxes. Make the problem worth money.
When wild deer were being caught to stock the burgeoning deer farming industry in the 1960' and 70's you couldn't find a deer. A hind was bringing up to $2000 straight out of the bush and Kiwis came up with all sorts of ideas for live capture. They used helicopters, net guns, foot traps, fenced traps and all sorts of innovations, some of which didn't work very well. But the financial incentive ensured that deer were hard to find.
It has been reported that it costs something like $60 to kill a possum using aerial-spread 1080 poison. Whether it is $60 or less, the principle remains the same. If that was paid to hunters for every possum tail they produced, it would create employment in job-poor rural areas, encouraging youngsters to set traps and go out at night with a spotlight and a .22 rifle. Many do that now anyway.
Which should remind us of a famous story about cobras in Delhi that I wrote about earlier here:
The government was concerned about the number of snakes running wild (er... slithering wild) in the streets of Delhi. So, they struck on a plan to rid the city of snakes. By paying a bounty for every cobra killed, the ordinary people would kill the cobras and the rampant snakes would be less of a problem. And so it proved. Except, some enterprising locals realised that it was pretty dangerous to catch and kill wild cobras, and a lot safer and more profitable to simply breed their own cobras and kill their more docile ones to claim the bounty. Naturally, the government eventually became aware of this practice, and stopped paying the bounty. The local cobra breeders, now without a reason to keep their cobras, released them. Which made the problem of wild cobras even worse.
Replace cobras in the above story with possums, and Delhi with New Zealand, and you have Geoff Thomas's solution. Any entrepreneurial person would quickly realise that it is cheaper and easier to farm possums than to hunt them, and therefore much more profitable. This time really won't be different.

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