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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Saturday 21st January 2012

Back in July, I wrote about the accidental poisoning of two giraffes at the zoo in Tucson after they were fed with oleander cuttings from hedges around the zoo. At the time, I noted that the zoo had started fund-raising to have the oleander bushes removed. A look at the zoo’s website shows that removal went ahead in September but, it appears, local garden contractors offered their services free of charge so, perhaps, other fund-raising didn’t suffer.

Now, comes a story from Bermuda of the death of eight cows from suspected oleander poisoning. Though it doesn't sat, I'm assuming the plant concerned is Nerium oleander rather than Thevetia peruviana, yellow oleander, as the latter is more usually associated with Asia. The incident occurred last November and the linked story reports the results of testing that has confirmed that the animals died after being fed oleander leaves. It is suggested that this was an accident resulting from an unknown member of the public including the toxic leaves in a mixture of foliage fed to the cattle as a treat but the farmer concerned accepts that the actual route by which the poisoning occurred will never be known.

Nerium oleander

Nerium oleander

There is a lot of oleander in Bermuda and there is no recollection of a similar incident before. The affected cattle were in a pen so I would think that farmers in Bermuda may, in future, take precautions against cattle in enclosures being fed by the public. In the UK, we’re so sensitive to the various diseases that can affect cattle that the notion of free access to penned cattle strikes as bizarre.

Though I don’t suppose that it played any part in this incident, it started me thinking that there could be unforeseen consequences from the perceived obsession with health and safety. I wonder if people will come to assume that all hazards have been removed, based on the various media reports alleging excessive attention to minor hazards, and, as a result, assume that whatever they come across must be safe.

I don’t want to be guilty of creating the hysteria about poisonous plants that I frequently condemn in others but one of the reasons plants cause so few problems is that people are wary of the unknown. If that wariness were dispelled by the assumption that all hazards have been removed it could lead to problems.

There was another aspect of this story that struck me. I’ve said before that I find it frustrating that many stories about poisoning are not followed through to a conclusion. You read that such and such a plant is suspected as being behind some incident and tests are being conducted but the result of the tests is never reported. On this occasion, the reverse seems to have happened.

I didn’t see any report of the incident when it happened, in November 2011 and the first I knew of it was the story linked to above which does give as firm a conclusion as possible. I’ve now found this one story but it makes no mention of poisoning so it is no wonder I didn’t see it.

It’s set me thinking that it might be worth looking back at some of the previous stories I’ve written about to see if I can find any later information.