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

Say Yes To Adventure - - Features - WORDS: Annabelle Latz IMAGES: Corey Mosen LO­CA­TION: New Zealand

Annabelle Latz

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.’

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