Charlie and Mary Tapurau Hosking buried their loved grey cat Pandy this weekend. They had found her body lying just inside the netting fence of the lettuce and bok choy plantation next door.
Two days earlier they had buried their dogs Moss and Kobe, under a rauti plant and sprigs of rosemary. They had been found a little further up the fence-line, bloated, their tongues blackened and foam spilling from their mouths.
Earlier this year they lost another dog, Roxy, and two cats, Shellie and Nikki, “foamed and twisted”.
As they prepared to bury Pandy, Mary sat in tears outside their home. The smell of chemicals hung heavy in the air on the driveway between the house, and the plantation.
As she often did, Mary had waved and shaken her head at the worker when he turned up to spray the plants last Tuesday. He went ahead anyway.
The dogs went for a swim town at Titikaveka on Wednesday. They and Pandy didn’t return for their food on Wednesday – and on Thursday, the Mary and Charlie found the dogs’ bodies.
They took graphic photos of the dogs bodies, and then of Pandy’s when they found her on Sunday.
“To have two dogs and a cat all die on the same day, all on that boundary fence …” Mary’s voice breaks.
Planter Arama Wigmore acknowledges his slug and snail pellets are likely to have been responsible for the animals’ deaths.
Wigmore’s worker sprinkled the pellets last week, the same day the animals were last seen. The worker also sprinkled the organic caterpillar insecticide DiPel DF, and sprayed the herbicide Gramoxone (paraquat) – which is banned in Europe and some US states.
But, speaking to Cook Islands News, Wigmore said it was the pellets he suspected were to blame –he said those pellets were available from CITC and he obtained his supply from the Ministry of Agriculture.
How did he know? Because his own dog nearly died two weeks ago, after eating just half a pellet from the dose he had sprinkled on his mother’s garden.
“We just shake the pellets on the plants,” he said. “I had to take my dog to the vet – and he only ate half a pellet.
He took his seriously ill dog to Te Are Manu veterinary clinic, he said, and they confirmed the dog was suffering poisoning. “Looking at the symptoms, they said it’s poison from the snug and snail pellet.
“Now that I know, I’ll be careful,” he said. “But we do fence the plantations.”
Slug pellets contain metaldehyde, which can kill an animal in between one and four hours. “Dogs and other animals find this bait attractive and it may kill them,” reads the warning on one brand of pellet.
Mary Tapurau Hosking is now calling on Agriculture Minister Rose Brown to ban the pesticides. “Akapuao, Teimurimotia – the food basket of Rarotonga, so touted – is riddled with poison. Pesticides and herbicides are in puddles on the side of the road, in our taro patches, in our streams and in our lagoon.”