Agriculture secretary Temarama Anguna-Kamana said she was saddened to hear about the deaths of the dogs, but also concerned that the poisoning has been attributed to Paraquat.
“The dilution rate for Paraquat in water is between 220-314 times and is very unlikely to cause any poisoning in dogs, cats or other animals following application.”
Te Are Manu vet Dr Ellen McBryde said the clinic was approached by health officials yesterday to collaborate on setting up a Paraquat testing protocol on Rarotonga. She was unable to comment on dilution rates without access to or testing of the product used.
She is calling for a ban on Paraquat, after inspecting six dogs in the past week that she said had been poisoned by the herbicide, which is banned in more than 60 countries.
Anguna-Kamana said over the years, farmers on Rarotonga had suffered loss of equipment and animals to dog attacks.
Dogs could incur huge costs and irreplaceable damage to drip irrigation tubes laid alongside crop rows including transplanted vegetable crops.
“Packs of roaming dogs have also attacked goats and pigs in many areas on the island and some farmers no longer keep livestock due to the ongoing attacks by dogs,” she said.
McBryde said they were acutely aware of the issues associated with roaming dogs and understood they could be a nuisance and at worst, cause serious harm to other animals, damage crops and property.
Te Are Manu did not condone inflicting intentional harm of any form, including poisoning on any animal, regardless of circumstances.
“We cannot be certain whether these recent poisoning cases are intentional or incidental,” McBryde said.
“The pattern we have observed over time is that cases of suspected Paraquat poisoning occur following heavy/persistent rain, as we experienced last weekend.”
Yesterday the Ministry carried out an investigation that included interviewing the owners of the dogs.
All owners live in close proximity to each other and their dogs experienced a severe case of poisoning leading to their demise, Anguna-Kamana said.
“Each owner mentioned there were dog attacks on goats in the past two-three weeks and the owner of the goats did not bury the carcass for over a week, enabling their dogs to feed on them,” she said.
“Remains of a goat carcass was evident in one dog owner’s yard. A total of three goats were attacked and killed by dogs within a 100-metre radius of the four houses affected.”
All owners admitted that their dogs roam freely out of the confines of their home and into other people’s yards and plantations.
Three owners said their dogs had been spotted playing inside plantations destroying crops and taking food scraps from a small pig farm within the area. One dog owner claimed their dog had fish poisoning.
Within a 200m radius of where the goats were attacked, there was no evidence of Paraquat spraying for agriculture activities.
Anguna-Kamana said the Ministry was well aware of the dangers certain types and formulations of agricultural pesticides posed to the environment and non-target species and it continued to provide awareness trainings on the appropriate use of pesticides by farmers on both Rarotonga and the Pa Enua.
“The Ministry has continued to be pro-active in the promotion of mineral oils, Neem oils and Dipel Bacillus thuringiensis var kurstaki as an alternative control measure for the control of insect pests including; aphids, whiteflies, leafminers, mites, mealy bugs, caterpillars and scales on food and ornamental crops,” she said.
They were happy to report that, over the past five-six years, many commercial farmers have switched to using these organic pesticides as opposed to the more toxic formulations.
“We will soon be testing a few organically certified products for effectiveness in disease and weed control in crops and will continue to engage collaboratively with our national, regional and international partners for safer and cost-effective options for pest control in agriculture,” she said.
“We would also appreciate that further investigations be conducted to confirm the cause of poisoning rather than leaping to the conclusion of Paraquat poisoning.”
McBryde said Te Are Manu fully supported the Ministry in their campaign for awareness and the promotion of alternative control methods and organic farming practices.
“We are pleased to say the Ministry of Health has visited us twice today to discuss these recent poisoning cases and we are in the process of developing a testing protocol so that we are able to identify Paraquat poisoning cases definitively, beyond the clinical presentation, in the future.”
McBryde had to humanely euthanase some of the six poisoned dogs. “Paraquat poisoning had effectively been confirmed by the progression of the illness and the fact that one of the dogs had passed away,” she said.
Minister for Agriculture Rose Brown rejected that. “The continued misreporting of such incidents without evidence from any proper test undertaken or proper investigation undertaken is not encourage otherwise people will be quick to make unfounded allegations.
“It is always best to get the facts first before publishing such statements to avoid a misinformed public.”