Esther Honey Foundation manager Jo Taylor Kupu said it was highly likely that paraquat, sold in the Cook Islands under the name Gramoxone, had poisoned pets in the Muri area.
“We suspect that it is paraquat, as all the signs are indicative to this kind of poisoning,” Kupu said.
“After some research we know that a Chinese company owns the rights for this agriculture spray and suspect a derivative from this formula is produced as a fast and effect weed killer.
“The problem is that if a cat, for example walks into an area that has been sprayed and licks its paw or if an animal eats any food that has been exposed to the spray they are quickly poisoned.”
She said most of the animals poisoned lately were from Muri side of the island.
“The signs they present are gasping for breath, salivating, and bloody diarrhoea and most commonly after the third day a terrible death.
“We cannot test for this type of poisoning but from all the research we suspect this is what it is.”
On Rarotonga last year a number of dogs died agonising deaths after being exposed to paraquat, including two dogs living on neighbouring properties. These two animals were taken to the Esther Honey Centre for treatment, but vets were unable to save them.
Paraquat is banned in the EU and in the US can only be used by licensed applicators, who must use full protective gear.
However, it is used in casual fashion by many growers on Rarotonga and an “empty” container of the weedkiller left lying in a plantation last year is thought to have been responsible for the death of a much-loved pet dog belonging to island environmentalist Ruth Horton.