One teaspoon is enough to kill a grown rhino and a mere 1mg can kill a rodent weighing less than a kilogram – this substance is more poisonous than arsenic.
In recent years, Temik – or "Two-step" as its illegal buyers know it – has become a powerful weapon used by burglars to silence their canine victims. In 2003, the poison was used to maliciously kill 97 pets in the Gauteng province alone.
Now, yet another use is emerging.
Poachers use Temik
In May 2005, five endangered white rhino were poisoned along with scores of other large game in Limpopo’s Nwanedi Nature Reserve.
The incident horrified the Department of Nature Conservation and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA). Although this was not the first reported incident of the poisoning of wildlife, officials feared that it could be the start of a trend.
The use of Temik (aldicarb) as yet another crime weapon has been recorded for a number of years, especially in Gauteng. As many as 97 cases of aldicarb poisoning were confirmed in this province in 2003, according to research by the Faculty of Veterinary Science of the University of Pretoria.
At one veterinary clinic, three out of 50 feline patients were also diagnosed with aldicarb poisoning.
What is Temik?
Temik is widely used as a pesticide on crops such as cotton, potatoes and peanuts. It is registered in terms of the Fertilisers, Farm Seeds, Agricultural and Stock Remedies Act of 1947.
As a member of the carbamate pesticides, classification is divided into super, high and medium toxicity. Temik falls in the super-toxin class, which means that it is highly toxic, says toxicologist Dr Gerbus Muller from the University of Stellenbosch.
The substance has a dark grey to black, granule-like appearance.
Although Temik has received a lot of negative publicity owing to its association with burglaries, it is seen as an extremely effective product sold in the agricultural market.
"Farmers won't necessarily be able to operate without this pesticide," Muller reckoned.
Chris Cummings, an area manager of Bayer CropScience, said that the company is determined to re-establish the product as a responsible agricultural aid.
The availability of Temik
The only lawful way of obtaining Temik is by either being a qualified pesticide operator, or by having a qualified operator present while using the product. The Department of Agriculture controls the qualification examinations and strict registration of the products. Every product container carries a unique barcode, which is recorded at every stage of distribution.
However, experts believe that the widespread distribution and use of Temik is not necessarily linked to registered distributors, but to the illegal selling of Temik as a "domestic rat poison" at bus depots in South Africa.
"The profit margin is so high that these perpetrators make a fortune by selling small amounts in simple plastic bags without the proper health warnings," says Prof Christo Botha of the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Pretoria.
As co-author of the scientific article that testifies of the high figure of aldicarb poisoning in animals, he and Muller are both of the opinion that the public is unknowingly using this product as a routine domestic pesticide without understanding its dangers.
Symptoms of aldicarb poisoning
Symptoms of aldicarb poisoning include weakness, headaches, vomiting and eventually death, if untreated.
"It takes approximately an hour to an hour and a half for symptoms to show, and (intoxication) lasts for up to six to eight hours," Muller says. The poison attacks the nervous system and inhibits breathing.
According to Muller, "the main cause of fatality can usually be attributed to asphyxiation, as the lungs are flooded with secretion from the stomach".
The majority of veterinarians usually observe tremors and salivation, but additional symptoms include diarrhoea and even paralysis.
Rick Allan, manager of the NSPCA's wildlife unit, describes death from aldicarb poisoning as the "twisting of guts, while dying in agony".
Prevention and treatment
Although early treatment can be very successful, prevention is still better than cure.
According to Botha and colleagues, their research showed that "the majority of veterinarians (80%) indicated that they thought criminal intent was the main reason why animals were poisoned".
They advise pet owners to keep their dogs inside or in a back yard at night. Pets should be fed at night to prevent them from eating poisoned bait. Obedience training for dogs to prevent food acceptance from strangers should also be implemented.
A poisoned animal should be taken to a vet as quickly as possible. If this isn't possible, the only other action is to induce vomiting.
The best-known treatment is atropine, injected intravenously or under the skin. Electrolyte therapy and activated charcoal along with a number of other therapies are also frequently used.
The survival rate is estimated at 50%-75%, following treatment. And the average cost of treatment is estimated to be in the range of R500 to R1500, depending on duration of hospitalisation and range of treatments used.
– (Délani Webb for Health24, May 2005)