Meet the New Zealanders making our country predator free
The government’s audacious goal of a predator-free New Zealand by 2050 needs to harness clever people and smart technology. Meet some leaders in the field.
WORDS: Ann Warnock
SAFEGUARDING A SINGLE SPECIES
What: Kiwi Coast Project
A Kiwi Listening Blitz using passive acoustic monitors at 48 sites along New Zealand’s first “kiwi corridor” on Northland’s east coast has helped formulate a picture of a stable and/or increasing population of brown kiwi – flying in the face of national data identifying a two per cent decline in numbers. It’s the first time the kiwi listening devices – a new technology that records sounds onto a small flash memory card for computer analysis of kiwi calls – has been used in a large-scale scientific survey. As part of the Kiwi Coast Project, more than 120,000 hectares in Northland are under active pest management.
LIVING PEST FREE
What: Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari
A 3363-hectare mainland ecological “island” surrounded by a 47-kilometre pest-proof fence is a groundbreaker on the global environmental pest-free platform. Collectively owned by local iwi, the community and adjoining landowners, its $15-million mesh barrier (completed in 2007) has an alarm wire that texts maintenance staff if activated by tree debris. The project’s ecosystem offers the closest match to pre-human Aotearoa, and its historic bush-clad mountainous terrain is a restorative hub for self-sustaining endangered species and the revival of native flora. The “island” has hefty credentials. It is:
● The world’s largest pest-proofed fenced sanctuary.
● The world’s longest pest-proof fence.
● Aotearoa’s most ambitious conservation project.
● Pest free for almost 10 years.
What: Celium wireless network technology Who: Encounter Solutions, Auckland
Monitoring predator traps in tough terrain via low power, long-range wireless network equipment could revolutionize pest management. Trap lines are traditionally checked by a labour force – a time-consuming and costly exercise. Encounter Solutions has unveiled gadgetry, as well as a mobile app and a web portal, allowing users to manage the real-time status of trap networks in the toughest landscapes, plus capture critical data. Trialed by regional councils, the product is garnering international attention.
A VIEW FROM THE BACK COUNTRY
Archie MacFarlane, a 29-year-old University of Canterbury PhD wildlife conservation student, has spent four years working in the South Island’s remote back country assessing bird populations as part of a university project and as a Department of Conservation biodiversity ranger.
❯ On birds: “Most of our bird species are absent or uncommon in areas where there is no predator control. When you find areas with high bird numbers you realize how desperate the others are.”
❯ On birdsong: “When Captain James Cook arrived in the 1770s he noted the birdsong was deafening. I’ve only once or twice experienced something close to this and it was truly amazing. I think we’ve forgotten it’s not the call of a lone tui or bellbird that should be so iconic but the calls of several thousand birds together.”
❯ On pests: “I’ve sat at 2000 metres on a scree slope and watched mice running around between the rocks hunting for insects and seed. They’re everywhere in our remote back country – mice, rats, stoats, weasels, ferrets, cats and possums.”
❯ On holding the line: “Many of our common species are only just surviving but for many other species I would say the line was crossed or abandoned many years ago – 34 per cent of our endemic land and freshwater birds and five per cent of our sea birds are extinct. Of the remaining bird species, 37 per cent are considered to be threatened. But we do recognize we need to solve the problem.”
REVOLUTIONARY USE OF 1080 IN TARANAKI’S ICONIC BUSH
What: Taranaki Mounga
Restoring the ecological resilience of Taranaki Mounga (Mount Taranaki), Egmont National Park, a halo of surrounding farmland and Nga Motu Islands (off shore from New Plymouth) during a 20-year period is the goal of a bold new biodiversity restoration project. Launched in April its initial focus is to make Egmont National Park the nation’s first goat, deer and pig-free national park (pigs and deer have already been removed). The project will pilot pest-eradication technology and tools with the potential to change the face of conservation. It includes:
● Precision use of 1080 to remove rats, possums and stoats and halt re-invasion in a 1600-hectare trial site. Involves non-toxic aerial pre-feeds in controlled strips to tune predators onto the bait, followed by the deployment of aerial 1080 and intensive monitoring to measure the impact on predators.
● Investigation of infra-red, drone monitoring, new lures for bait stations and self-resetting trap technology.
The drivers are Taranaki iwi, the NEXT Foundation (a privately funded philanthropic foundation with environmental and educational interests) and DOC. In the next 10 years $24 million will be invested in the project.
CONSERVATION AND COLLABORATION
What: Cape to City
Where: Hawke’s Bay
Traversing 26,000 hectares of land and blazing into pastoral, viticultural and urban landscapes, this is a vast predator-control and ecological-restoration venture. The five-year project is hot off the press. It’s fueled by the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, iwi, DOC, Aotearoa Foundation (established by American businessman and philanthropist Julian Robertson), Cape Sanctuary (New Zealand’s largest privately owned conservation project), Landcare Research and Hawke’s Bay landowners and businesses. School partnerships are key.
What: Orokonui Ecosanctuary
A flagship Southland biodiversity project is reviving a tract of pure Otago coastal forest propelled by ultra-modern technology and a rare success story – it has eradicated mice to largely undetectable levels. A fine-tuned pest-proof fence, permanent trapping and an intense monitoring grid of tracking tunnels have produced the result. Mice are problematic for all pest-fenced sanctuaries. They re-invade and are destructive – eating invertebrates, seeds, fruit and lizards. Orokonui’s compact 307-hectare size has facilitated its radical results with mice. In the wider fight against predators Orokonui uses:
● High-tech camera traps (equipped with memory cards and motion sensors).
● A24 self-resetting traps designed for stoats and rats, recently developed by a Wellington firm
● GIS mapping software – integrates, analyses and shares geographical data.