Conservation’s gone to the dogs
‘‘We have a freezer full of rats, whichmy wife really loves, and I have friends who live-capture so we can keep his training up.’’
It’s raining lizards on Mana Island.
Seconds after Andrew Blanshard warns the historic woolshed is full of the reptiles, one drops from the ceiling, hits the floor and weaves away.
In the rafters above, hundreds of tiny heads can be seen peering down on the human intruders – the only pests on the table-shaped chunk of land three kilometres off Porirua.
‘‘The lizards are everywhere, the place is bloody crawling with them,’’ Blanshard says.
Blanshard and his dog, Tyke, work for the Department of Conservation, and they’re are on Mana to make sure the lizards can keep crawling.
Tyke is a predator dog, whose job is to scout for the rodents that could destroy the island’s native wildlife.
Discarded gecko skins carpeting the ground are testament to the duo’s success.
‘‘A good day for Tyke is a bad day for me. If he finds something it’s the start of a whole lot of work for a whole lot of people.’’
It’s a lot of responsibility for the little border terrier, trained to sniff out the undesirables, but there’s no doubt he loves his job.
He never really stops looking for vermin, it’s part of his breeding but he also knows when it’s business time, the ranger says.
The mice that plagued the island were eradicated in the early 1990s, but the department remains vigilant.
They have a canine arsenal, the dog squad, that checks the islands. The dogs are each specifically trained, some hunt cats, some rats, and others possums.
Sporting a muzzle to prevent any over-excited accidents, Tyke scours the island sniffing for the tell-tale scent of intruders among the native trees, 500,000 of which had been planted by volunteers.
A find is indicated by a change in behaviour allowing Blanshard to set traps and plot the location on GPS for further exploration.
The checks are routine and, this time, Mana was given the allclear, resulting in a ‘‘very bored’’ dog.
It’s tough for Tyke to keep searching for something he never finds, Blanshard says.
‘‘We have a freezer full of rats, which my wife really loves, and I have friends who live-capture so we can keep his training up.’’
It’s not just the lizards that live predator-free on the island, the noise of native birds is ever present and a group of shags reluctantly shuffle aside to let the pair pass.
‘‘There’s a lot of birds just sitting around on the ground here because they’re safe.’’
It was a flying trip to Mana, three days later the pair climb aboard the DoC boat and head to Matiu/Somes Island in Wellington Harbour.
Blanshard hopes for another uneventful trip. Tyke never gives up the hope for rodents.