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.

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