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Rodenticide information session draws out Malibu activists

Suzanne Guldimann, Freelance Reporter
3:22 pm PDT March 17, 2014

Calabasas is the latest community in the Santa Monica Mountains to join the City of Malibu in passing a resolution urging businesses and residents to find safer alternatives to the use of anticoagulant rodenticides. 

According to numerous studies, anticoagulant rat poison kills far more than rodents in the Santa Monica Mountains. Among the documented victims of inadvertent or secondary poisoning are  mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, and gray foxes. Other unintended victims include owls and hawks, raccoons, skunks, weasels, badgers, native non-pest rodent species and even domestic cats and dogs, but there’s a growing move to replace unsustainable poison use with wildlife friendly alternatives.

A number of Malibu residents and activists participated in a rodenticide awareness forum hosted by the City of Calabasas on Thursday, March 13. The public had an opportunity to learn about the impact of rodenticide on wildlife and domestic animals and to find out about safer, more wildlife friendly rodent control options.

National Park Service biologist Seth Riley described the impact of anti-coagulant rodenticide on wildlife. 

According to Riley, rodenticide was second only to vehicle strikes as the primary cause of mortality during a nine-year coyote study. Eighty-three percent of all coyotes tested were found to have been exposed to the toxins. The numbers were higher in the native cat population: 90 percent of the mountain lions studied, 92 percent of bob cats.

“10 of the 11 mountain lions [studied] were exposed to multiple compounds, even the three-month-old kitten,” Riley said.

“It’s not just Southern California,” Riley said. “According to Fish and Wildlife, out of 100 [California] mountain lions tested, 75 percent were exposed.”

While coyotes, mountain lions and gray foxes have been documented dying as a direct result of internal bleeding, Riley said that the evidence suggests the toxins affect bob cats by leaving them vulnerable to a debilitating type of mange that causes dehydration and a slow death.

“The survival rate [of bobcats] has dropped to 30 percent,” Riley said.

Notoedric mange also affects mountain lions. “P4 and P3 had severe mange, ” Riley said. “But  they bleed to death directly.” 

Riley said the researchers found that these two mountain lions appear to have been poisoned by eating coyotes, which had high levels of the toxins from ingesting poisoned rodents.

Lisa Malhum, a veterinary criticalist and emergency veterinarian, said that anti-coagulant rodenticides are one of the most common types of poisoning seen in dogs. Animals that receive immediate medical attention can be treated with activated charcoal, vitamin k and the antidote, she said. Those that are “clinical,” already bleeding, require blood transfusions, plasma transfusions, antidote, and several days of hospitalization. 

“Wild animals don’t have those options,” Malibu resident and activist Wendi Werner said. “I volunteer at the California Wildlife Center, I see these animals, I hold them. By the time they come to us there’s almost nothing we can do. It’s a slow, painful death.”

Deborah Bennet, with the Department of Toxic Substances Control, pointed out that every year more than 10,000 children throughout the U.S. are also the victims of accidental anti-coagulant rodenticide poisoning.

“Because we live here we have a special responsibility,” she said. “Live comfortably, but have the smallest footprint, which means not getting our poisons out into the wildlife.”

Malibu resident and activist Joel Schulman was also one of the speakers at the forum. Schulman and his wife and fellow activist Kian Schulman spearheaded the campaign to get anticoagulant rodenticides off the shelves in Malibu shops and the push for the City of Malibu’s rodenticide resolution. 

They have brought their education campaign to neighboring communities, including Calabasas, Agoura Hills, Hidden Hills, Moorpark and Ojai, all of which have passed or are passing resolutions. 

“People are sympathetic but they want evidence,” Schulman said.

“We talked to seven stores in Malibu. All of them, mom and pops and chain stores, were very cooperative, very sympathetic. Twenty California cities and counties have passed resolutions, but only the State can [issue] a ban.”

Schulman said Poison-Free Malibu is currently approaching local restaurants and shopping centers. 

“There are a huge number of bait boxes,” he said. “You see them everywhere. Animals go in, get the poison, go out and get eaten by carnivores.” 

“Garbage is the reason there’s rodents [in commercial environments],” Schulman said. “Open, overfilled dumpsters.” 

Schulman praised the Malibu restaurants Nobu and Nikita. 

“They have a beautiful sanitation policy,” he said. “No garbage, no rodents, no rodenticide. Restaurants think Los Angeles County Department of Health wants them to have rodenticide, but [the LACDH] discourages poison.”

Schulman said that the best way to eliminate rat and mouse issues at home is to seal up holes, excluding rodents. Residents should also secure trash and other potential food sources, like pet food.

He recommended mechanical snap traps and electric traps when exclusion isn’t possible and suggested that residents seek out environmentally friendly pest control companies that focus on exclusion or trapping, rather than poison bait.

“We need an entire cultural change,” Riley said. 

The State of California is expected to approve new restrictions on anticoagulant rodenticides, limiting their use to licensed professionals later this year, but wildlife conservationists continue to push for a full ban. 

They compare the situation with DDT, the agricultural insecticide that nearly led to the complete extinction of the California brown pelican, the bald eagle, and the peregrine falcon before it was banned in 1973.