Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Have a Proper Gander at this Photo

This photograph was taken in early March 2009 at the DoC camping area at the start of the walking track to Lake Daniels, just out of Springs Junction on the Lewis Pass Road. In addition to the infamous possum/rat photo, it shows a dog-killed Kiwi and a stoat-killed Takahe. Do you think this misleads people into believing that possums and rats are responsible for the death of these larger birds? If so, please contact Kate.Wilkinson@ministers.govt.nz and ask her to stop using this photograph immediately.
In another strange twist to the aerial 1080 saga, evidence has come to light that suggests the photograph used extensively by the Department of Conservation, Forest & Bird, Landcare Research and district and regional councils throughout New Zealand to “prove” that possums and rats eat native birds was actually from a controlled photo shoot.

To show two predators, who normally have nothing to do with each other, sitting up a tree trunk together after apparently raiding a native bird’s nest seemed too far-fetched to Nelson man Ron Eddy. He contacted the photographer David Mudge on the evening of February 1st, 2009.

Apparently taken during November 2007 in a two-acre remnant block of native bush on a farm outside Ohau, Horowhenua, Mr. Mudge explained that the photograph was actually part of a sequence of forty. These were taken using a motion sensor-controlled camera set up on top of a fruit picking ladder with flash units above and below the camera. With every photo taken these flash units flashed every two seconds to eliminate ‘redeye’ in the subjects.

That a possum and rat were prepared to sit through forty flash events every two seconds while they supposedly feasted on nestlings is not what can be expected of truly wild animals because under normal conditions both of these animals are usually very wary. With a number of such camera stations in the area it is quite apparent that these two animals were conditioned to their surroundings and therefore not truly “wild” animals.

Further questions revealed that the photographer had nailed the vine supporting the animals and the bird’s nest to the tree two to three weeks earlier and that the birds in the photograph were not, in fact, native birds, but Song Thrushes. For some reason the thrushes had chosen to inhabit a nest that does not resemble that of a thrush 2m or more off the ground in native bush, which is not normally their chosen habitat.

By nailing the vine to the tree, the photographer had made the nest and its occupants readily available to possums and rats, which would not normally be the case.

That these seemingly “wild” animals sat quietly through forty flashes from the camera without feeling threatened or frightened is indeed remarkable, unless they had been photographed so often that they no longer felt any fear.

The photographer went on to tell Ron that there was a large population of possums and rats in the block (the Animal Health Board requires they be culled) and said that he had shot the silver-grey possum as it was the only one that had attacked the nest, and he didn’t want it to teach the rest of the possums to eat birds.

So, let’s recap the facts:
• Controlled photoshoot on a farm.
• Song Thrushes — NOT native birds.
• Nest held in place by a nailed vine.
• Access facilitated to possums and rats by the nailed vine.
• Large population of possums and rats — NOT a typical native bush setting.

Do you think it is right for the agencies mentioned in this article to use this photo to mislead the public into believing that possums and rats are a “Big Problem” in our native forests? We think it demonstrates a lack of integrity on their behalf and because we as taxpayers pay them as public servants to work for us we expect higher than normal levels of integrity to go with the higher than normal rates at which they are paid.

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