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Compound 1080 in South Africa, according to Tim Snow, the field operations manager for the Poison Working Group of the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT). Snow said laboratory-based research has been conducted on the hazardous substance, also called sodium monofluoroacetate, which is supposed to target only jackal and caracal, but this was terminated in 2004. “The only legal use of the product is in sealed livestock protection collars, where only a predator which bites the livestock in the neck will be exposed to it. And the use of this substance is controlled, and abusing it is deemed illegal,” he told Farmer’s Weekly last week.

Snow’s remarks come in the wake of written replies to questions put before parliament last month over the use of the highly toxic poison. Parliament heard that Compound 1080 has not been declared legal nor has it been registered in SA. It is classified as a Group 1, Category A hazardous substance, and is regulated in terms of the Hazardous Substance Act, 1973 (Act No 15 of 1973) by the Department of Health. Parliament also heard that there are legal procedures which can be followed to obtain special access to the poison.Parliament heard that the poison is deadly to humans through ingestion, inhalation, and eye and skin contact. The main symptoms of Compound 1080 poisoning in humans resemble those of a heart attack. Parliament also heard that the substance can be used to poison animals, and that there is no antidote to treat Compound 1080 poisoning. The illegal possession or use of the poison must be reported to the Department of Agriculture as well as the police, MPs heard.

According to Snow, the EWT, the National Wool Growers’ Association and Cape Wools have been subject to a lot of criticism of late for allegedly spearheading a drive to promote the use of Compound 1080 on SA farms in an attempt to manage the populations of the black-backed jackal and caracal. However, he said the EWT has no such plans. “In order to register any chemical product, tests must first be done to prove that the chemical does what you claim it does. We did these tests but the research was terminated two and a half years ago.”According to Thys de Wet, a problem-animal specialist, some companies are testing the poison and are trying to get farmers involved. “They are still hoping to get the poison registered to control problem animals,” he said. Sodium monofluoroacetate, which is banned in the US, is one of the most lethal poisons in the world today. It was initially synthesised in 1896, and is found in the West African plant Dichapetalum toxicarum. In SA it is found in the Dichapetalum cymosum. It was first used as a moth repellent, and later to kill coyotes in the US. It was eventually banned in the 1970s due to poor field performance and the fact that large numbers of non-target animals were also being killed. It is still used in Australia and New Zealand to kill dingoes, foxes and possums.

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Researcher and conservationist Rob Harrison-White said a lot of disinformation about the substance has been fed to the public. He says it has been claimed that Compound 1080 is species-specific and safe to use. It has also been stated that a jackal will die within 30 minutes of ingesting the poison, that birds will not be poisoned and that Compound 1080 does not cause secondary poisoning. Yet research has shown that none of these claims are true, said Harrison-White. The poison is used in “drop-bait” form – a small lump of meat laced with the poison is placed on the ground. Studies have shown that many non-target animals have been killed by the poison, including eagles and falcons, bat-eared foxes, servals and mongooses.

And, contrary to claims, the poison does not always kill an animal within 30 minutes. Research done in the early 1960s documented how it took up to 36 hours of prolonged agony involving vomiting, salivating, shivering and extreme convulsions before a jackal died. As for the secondary poisoning, it has been found that the poisoned carcasses remain toxic for 75 days. Studies show that Compound 1080 causes vomiting within 40 minutes of ingestion, and the poison in the vomit is concentrated enough to threaten non-target animals. It has been found that even if birds did not die from the initial ingestion of the poison, it causes skeletal muscle necrosis and would thus result in the bird’s death at a later stage due to physical incapability. Insects also die after ingesting the poison. It therefore affects the entire food chain.

In light of this evidence, Harrison-White said it is extremely difficult to understand how anyone could follow a path that was not based on scientific evidence or practical fact, and proceed to ignore research and advice from leading SA problem-animal specialists and continue to test the poison. “It really is a nightmare poison,” added De Wet. – Gwenda van ZylStudies have shown that Compound 1080 is incapable of targeting only black-backed jackal and caracal, and affects a wide range of other species. It can therefore do untold damage to the entire food chain.