Researchers are calling on communities to refrain from using poison during rodent extermination week to avoid contaminating birds of prey, some of which are endangered.
The Council of Agriculture’s Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine told a meeting at the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) yesterday that using poison to kill rats began with agricultural communities, a practice that was eventually adopted by the council for its annual weeklong campaign of pest control.
However, the policy has come under fire, with researchers and legislators raising fears over the potential harm to birds of prey that feed on rodents, especially an endangered species of barn owl that inhabits southern Taiwan.
The bureau, which is in charge of the campaign, said they needed to know which season and areas they should avoid when assisting local agencies with anti-rat campaigns.
A research member from the Raptor Research Group of Taiwan said there are between 30 and 40 species of raptors in Taiwan, which means that at least one species of raptor is in breeding season every month of the year.
Moreover, an associate -technical specialist at the Forestry Bureau said data showed most birds of prey could fly long distances and are not limited to small areas, while some owls were even found living near households.
The Raptor Research Group member said that other non-chemical rodent-control methods should be adopted and that poison should not be used in fallow farmland.
The Kaohsiung District Agricultural Research and Extension Station said it was almost impossible not to poison rats because it has proven successful in bringing down the rat population.
However, some sensitive areas which birds of prey inhabit could be avoided, it said.
The EPA suggested the Forestry Bureau and the Endemic Species Research Institute provide more information to the Council of Agriculture and local agencies for reference.
After the meeting, Lin Wen-loung (林文隆) of the Wild Bird Rescue Institute of Taichung said the death of raptors by poison was a problem, adding that the institute has even witnessed an owl feeding a rat to its three babies and they all died.
He said the institute received about 30 birds of prey from central Taiwan each year that had died from poisoning.
“Many documents indicate the number of raptors that died from eating poisoned rats is underestimated, because sometimes the birds become dizzy and nauseous after eating the poison, and crash into glass windows when flying or are run over by vehicles, and these cases aren’t counted as death from poison,” Lin said.