KEA CONSERVATION WITH COREY MOSEN
If you met Corey Mosen on a building site in Whanganui back in the day, you'd probably think he was joking if he told you at weekends he often slept in his car or crashed on his mate's couch, spending his two days away from the tools, working at the Brook
SINCE 2010 HE has dedicated his career to working with the endangered kea. The bird many people find merely a pest is a far cry from his initial plan to work with monkeys.
But for the 32-year-old conservation enthusiast, it has all fallen into place, and makes perfect sense, intertwining perfectly with the passion for photography he has had since his teenage years. And to prove it, he has published a book to tell the tale of what he loves to do most.
It was his mother who encouraged him to put his photos and words into book form for a Christmas gift, then convinced him to publish it. “It's to show people the incredible places I work, and the creatures I see that New Zealand has to offer.”
As a wee tacker, he remembers visiting wildlife havens like Willowbank in Christchurch and spending half a day feeding the animals. “I had always wanted to work with monkeys when I was at school. I thought that would be cool.”
He pursued the natural path of studying Zoology at Massey University after school, spending the following years working domestically and abroad, on both building sites and within the wildlife, zoo and conservation areas. With a smile, he shared his fond memory of being given the task at Brooklyn Zoo of taking the donkey and miniature horse for walks in the park next door, which was often a slightly chaotic event. “The donkey didn't like going across the bridge,” said Corey, "which always provided a sure piece of entertainment for park goers." He ticked the box of working with monkeys in Costa Rica, describing them as almost pets as they liked jumping on his head.
Corey's career with keas started in 2007, when he did some volunteering for the Kea Conservation Trust, following which he worked with kiwis and kōkako. “New Zealand's equivalent to a monkey would be a kea, personality-wise, I suppose.”
Now, as a wildlife researcher/biologist for the Department of Conservation, Corey has landed his dream job, dedicating numerous hours each week to the cheeky birds he adores, which are in fact so endangered that without the help from people like Corey, they may cease to exist. Corey can often be found out bush, in his home away from home; the Kahurangi National Park, north-west South Island.
With his collie-cross Ajax, a trained conservation dog who has been through rigorous training to be allowed into national parks, and his camera never far from his side, Corey covers every nook and cranny of this park, tracking keas. “What we are up to is trying to find a way that we can keep them in the wild.”
Introduced pests such as stoats, rats and possums have been an important factor behind the demise of the kea population in New Zealand, as they target both chicks and eggs.
Corey's days involve partly catching birds to band, tag and attach transmitters then releasing them again, and putting trail cameras which are motion sensitive on the nests.
A perfect day for Corey is up before sunrise and sharing the area with kea he will catch that day, he will take a walk along the ridge tops for a swim
in a tarn. He loves the sound of the native birds, preparing a campsite, and watching the sunset followed by the starry sky. “We want to see how successful keas are at nesting when there is no interest from predators.”
But of course, his days do not always carry this romantic notion. “Like walking in the snow with frozen pants and boots, the icy wind, then packing up the tent and walking through a blizzard.”
Population and DNA studies are a part of Corey's job, with the overall goal to make an information model, which others can learn from. He admits it's hard to estimate kea populations, but his educated guess is that less than 5,000 are alive today.
It seems hard to believe that ‘back in the day' pre-1970s, there was a bounty on keas, especially in the high country where they were considered a pest and those successful in capturing them received 10 shillings per beak, equivalent to $65 today. “It was pretty profitable to be a kea shooter.” During the bounty days, 150,000 keas were killed.
Pest problems are rife around New Zealand now, with increasing populations of stoats and rats in the ‘predator plague cycle,' or in layman's terms; rats eat tree seeds which keeps them healthy, the stoats eat the rats, therefore breed more because they're also healthy.
Corey's role with DOC working in the bush to monitor the kea, with the overall goal to increase its population, is an occupation that will keep him busy for some time, and it's just as well. “I just love it,” said Corey, when asked if he enjoys it out bush, regardless of the conditions, although he does admit he hates the cold. “Sometimes I go out thinking I should be done today, and end up staying out there a few days.” A master of packing the essentials to keep him alive and well, Corey is also very aware of what Mother Nature has on her menu for him too and enjoys snacking on forest food like snowberries and supplejack chutes. Food supplies like rice, sauce and lollies are kept in buckets in the bush at the huts no one goes to. “And there is always a bag of skittles stashed in the bottom of my pack.”
Diving and hunting are favourite hobbies away from his job, but Corey can say with honesty that he loves his job, and it often does not even feel like a day at work.“Life is so short; you spend most of your life working, and then you die. Whatever I do in the future, I have got to make sure it's enjoyable.”
His passion for conservation has taken Corey to some amazing parts of the globe working with different wildlife; Mozambique, Papua New Guinea, Bonaire, Central America, Australia, and Greece. “I love being somewhere where birds, insects, and animals are different; it's all about the sounds, smells and sights.”
Corey wants to spread the word to young people that conservation is a great career path. “If you want a job you are passionate about, that you enjoy and where you want to make a difference in the world, then conservation is great. Corey is well aware of the typical attitude towards the cheeky green bird, shared amongst skiiers and trampers especially. His message is clear and simple, as he has been a victim too, having had tents, clothing, and parts of a work truck all fall victim to the kea beak.“If you know you are in kea habitat, prepare for it.”
Technology surrounds Corey in his bush-based life, and he can often be found listening to audio books and lectures on his iPod, skyping from his laptop, and spending a significant amount of time behind the lens filming and photographing. He even has a keyboard that hooks into bluetooth, so he can use his phone as a screen and writes short stories about those of significance who have crossed his bushladen path.
Taking friends along for his muchloved caving expeditions in his favourite spots like Mount Owen on the West Coast is always an enjoyable adventure for Corey, who never gets sick of seeing the delight on their faces, as they experience something brand new.
The best part about being in the bush? Just walking along a ridgeline in the sunshine.
‘ I love being somewhere where birds, insects, and animals are different; it’s all about the sounds, smells and sights.’