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Is sodium nitrite a more humane toxin than 1080 for feral pig control?

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RSPCA Australia has campaigned strongly for research into alternatives to 1080 poison for the control of pest animals. It is important that 1080 is replaced with a more humane poison or, better still, for humane non-lethal methods to be developed and adopted.

A new compound called sodium nitrite has been developed as an alternative to 1080 for feral pig control. Sodium nitrite is contained in a new poison bait (HOGGONE®) and is now available. Baits containing sodium nitrite appear to be more humane than 1080 as the toxin acts faster to cause a quicker and less distressing death, but sodium nitrite still has the potential to cause some suffering. However, the relative humaneness matrix developed by the NSW Department of Primary Industries shows that sodium nitrite is significantly more humane than 1080 for feral pig control [1]. Based on this assessment, sodium nitrite should be used instead of 1080.

Sodium nitrite works through reducing the amount of oxygen in the blood by reducing the poisoned animals’ haemoglobin levels. The poisoned animals lose consciousness and die due to lack of oxygen being delivered by the blood to the brain and heart. Death usually occurs within one to three hours after bait ingestion and most pigs are found within 200 metres of the baiting station. Signs of poisoning include progressive lethargy, incoordination and reduced consciousness. Difficulty in breathing is noted close to death and some animals experience seizures followed by coma and death. Pigs may show some signs of distress for 5-10 minutes prior to death.

Baits containing 1080 (sodium flouroacetate) work in a different way to sodium nitrite. 1080 toxin shuts down the energy supply to tissue and organ cells including the heart and brain. The initial obvious symptoms of 1080 poisoning are retching, vomiting followed by increasing lethargy and laboured breathing, often with white froth around the mouth and nostrils. Other signs include frenzied behaviour, manic running, squealing, convulsions, then coma and death. During periods of convulsions they may experience pain or anxiety if they are conscious during and between fits. Some animals may only show increased lethargy and laboured breathing. There is also potential for animals to injure themselves while exhibiting symptoms from the poison. Symptoms usually 1-2 hours after bait ingestion and death occurs 4-6 hours later. Thus, the effects of 1080 which cause pain, distress and death appear for a longer period of time than with sodium nitrite.

The risk of non-target species ingesting the sodium nitrite toxin is relatively low due to the mandatory specialised bait boxes used to contain the baits. Sodium nitrite also degrades relatively quickly in the environment should baits be inadvertently carried by birds or animals. This reduces the risk of non-target animals being poisoned. Sodium nitrite is also not considered a risk to animals eating poisoned animals (known as secondary poisoning).

Future use of 1080

Unfortunately, there are no current plans to cease the use of 1080 as a pest animal control method in Australia. However, with the availability of sodium nitrite, which is a more humane and effective toxic bait, it is hoped that significantly less 1080 will be used for feral pig control. However, work needs to continue to develop more humane non-lethal methods for feral pig control.

Until 1080 is phased out, RSPCA Australia supports compliance with best practice to avoid unnecessary use of 1080 baits and to reduce non-target impacts. This can be achieved through the implementation of the codes of practice (COPs) and standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the humane control of pest animals produced by the NSW Department of Primary Industries and funded by the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Heritage.

See also


[1] Sharp T & Saunders G (2011) A Model for Assessing the Relative Humaneness of Pest Animal Control Methods. Second Edition. Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry: Canberra, ACT, Australia.

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Updated on March 16, 2021
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