Context. Control of unwanted wildlife (‘pest’ animals) is undertaken for conservation and economic reasons, and when such animals are considered a nuisance. Such control should be undertaken using approaches that minimise, as far as possible, detrimental impacts on the welfare of the animals. Using a scientific framework based on the Five Domains model, the relative welfare impacts of pest control methods can be compared across methods and pest species.
Aims. We demonstrate the application of a modified version of this framework to evaluate the relative impacts of seven Vertebrate Toxic Agents (VTAs) used to control brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) in New Zealand. The evaluation is used to produce a ranking of the seven VTAs based on their relative impacts on possum welfare.
Methods. Scientific literature describing mode of toxic action, specific effects in possums or other animals and reports from human poisonings was collated as reference material for a panel of six experts. The panel produced a median welfare impact score (‘none’ to ‘extreme’) for each of the Five Domains. The ‘Overall Grade’ (1 to 8) reflected the intensity and duration of all impacts of a VTA on possums.
Key results. All VTAs evaluated have at least moderate impacts on possum welfare, lasting for at least minutes. Cyanide was assessed as having the lowest welfare impacts (median grade 4), and cholecalciferol and the anticoagulants the highest impacts (7.5 to 8). Zinc phosphide was assigned an intermediate grade (6) with high confidence. While the overall impacts of sodium fluoroacetate (1080) and phosphorus were also assessed as intermediate (6), the panel’s confidence in these scores was low.
Conclusions. From an animal welfare perspective, anticoagulant poisons and cholecalciferol should be the least preferred options for controlling possums in New Zealand, as VTAs with less severe welfare impacts are available.
Implications. The results of such assessments allow animal welfare impacts to be integrated with other factors in wildlife management decision-making and policy development, and are thus useful for managers, researchers, regulators and operators. Evaluation of welfare impacts aligns with the goals and mandates of ethical wildlife control and may also be valuable in wider wildlife research and management activities.