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    For the Birds: New Zealand to Wipe Out All Non-Native Pests on Island

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    New Zealand has launched an unprecedented conservation project. The country aims to save its rare native birds by exterminating all rats, possums and stoats on the island.

    More than 40 species of birds that used to thrive on the once predator-free land have already died out because of introduced pests. Now, the settlers' descendants want to turn back the clock.

    New Zealanders, colloquially known as Kiwis, believe that that the island's distinctive birds are part and parcel of their nation's heritage and that it is their duty to protect the endangered species. In July 2016, it became official government policy.

    "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," then-Prime Minister John Key said as he announced the goal to kill all the vermin by 2050.

    The government has invested an initial $20 million in a new joint venture company called Predator Free New Zealand, monitoring the use of traps, poison drops, fences and other means to control and wipe out invasive species.

    Critics of the plan say it is overly ambitious and underfunded, citing a 2015 study by Kiwi researchers which found that an eradication effort could cost $6.2 billion over 50 years, and success is not guaranteed.

    "It's a fantasy science fiction," said Wayne Linklater, a wildlife biologist at the Victoria University of Wellington.

    "And it really is seriously distracting us from some really big changes and improvements we can make in biodiversity and the environment now."

    Others are more optimistic about the country's chances of success, saying that pest management could cost taxpayers even more money and that additional donations from local authorities and philanthropists would help pull the project off.

    While comparing the initiative with "landing someone on Mars," a great number of volunteers support the project by helping find scientific breakthroughs, such as changing pest genes to make them die out, or simply establishing rat traps along their workout routes.

    "The momentum has been fantastic," said Conservation Minister Maggie Barry.

    "Street by street, town by town, city by city, we will join forces and achieve this thing."

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    endangered species, birds, New Zealand
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