Win­dow on Waitakere: Re­al­ity shows

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RBy Kay Lind­ley eal­ity TV fills our screens nightly but now Ark in the Park vol­un­teer Stuart Park de­cides that re­al­ity YouTube is our next big thing. Well not quite true, but Stuart in his work life deals with se­cu­rity is­sues and tech­nol­ogy and also likes to use this knowl­edge for his in­ter­est in wildlife.

Vol­un­teer­ing ini­tially when he came to New Zealand from the UK with the Otanewainuku Kiwi project, he ar­ranged in­frared ac­ti­vated cam­eras that took snap­shots of possums vis­it­ing bait sta­tions prior to the poi­son­ing con­trol mea­sures.

At the Ark at the start of last sea­son, vol­un­teers and Ark com­mit­tee mem­bers hiked re­cently along some bait lines plac­ing bait. Un­touched bags of mouldy old bait in­di­cated the ab­sence of rats since those baits had been laid the pre­vi­ous year.

Com­ing upon their first bait sta­tion where bait had been taken, Stuart stopped to es­tab­lish his sur­veil­lance equip­ment. Cam­ou­flage tap­ing over the small snaplock plas­tic box made the spy­ware al­most in­vis­i­ble when strapped to a Nikau trunk.

The red laser beam sud­denly com­ing from the box onto the bait sta­tion sur­prised ev­ery­one al­though it was merely the hi-tech way of align­ing the lens on the tar­get. A few ad­just­ments and all was ready.

The vol­un­teers fig­ured that rats be­ing al­ways wary of new ob­jects in their en­vi­ron­ment may not in­ves­ti­gate the newly placed bag of bait for some time; nev­er­the­less, Stuart had sched­uled a check the fol­low­ing week any­way.

Find­ing that af­ter only one night a rat was en­ter­ing the sta­tion and tak­ing baits away was salu­tary but showed the need for on­go­ing rat con­trol ef­forts. Vol­un­teers can never be sure if a partly eaten bag of bait in­di­cates that the lo­cal rats have par­taken then died or if they be­came bait shy or in­deed if new rats had moved in more re­cently af­ter the bait had lost its al­lure.

Here the in­frared video showed a very ac­tive rat en­ter­ing the sta­tion and tak­ing out bait— its days though are num­bered and hope­fully its place is not taken till well af­ter spring to give our wanted wildlife a suc­cess­ful breed­ing sea­son.

Ac­cord­ing to NZ For­est & Bird, Pest con­trol is prob­a­bly the ma­jor pri­or­ity of most con­ser­va­tion ac­tiv­ity th­ese days, and cut­ting edge re­search is be­ing done to de­velop more ef­fi­cient tech­niques.

In the 80s and 90s most of our con­ser­va­tion ef­fort was go­ing into sav­ing both pub­lic and pri­vate forests from be­ing de­stroyed by log­ging, but with vic­tory in those strug­gles the fo­cus has shifted to sav­ing the forests from the threat of in­tro­duced mam­mals which in­evitably de­grade the habi­tat from within.

The three most de­struc­tive mam­mals, among some oth­ers, are possums, rats, and the­mustelid group (weasels, fer­rets, and es­pe­cially stoats). Al­though th­ese an­i­mals are very de­struc­tive and have no nat­u­ral place in New Zealand, they de­serve the re­spect of a hu­mane death.

We all wish for some bi­o­log­i­cal or re­pro­duc­tive con­trol, but that is some way off, if ever, and for the fore­see­able fu­ture restor­ing habi­tat suit­able for our na­tive birds and crea­tures de­mands that we kill mam­mals as hu­manely as pos­si­ble.

Left unchecked, possums will over time change the en­tire char­ac­ter of our na­tive forests to a sim­pler and less di­verse open tree­land which will ei­ther not sup­port some na­tive species at all, or not al­low other tougher species to build up to good num­bers. Possums will not eat many ma­jor trees such as Kauri and Rimu, but they rel­ish many fruit and nec­tar-bear­ing shrubs and trees that are im­por­tant to our na­tive birds such as north­ern Rata, Po­hutukawa, Tree Fuch­sia, and Ko­hekohe.

Possums are not en­tirely veg­e­tar­ian as they also at­tack the nests of birds, eat­ing both eggs and chicks.

For the op­por­tu­nity to see the won­der­ful work to con­tain preda­tors in the Waitakere ranges, and to go on the Walk­ing Waitakere Wed­nes­day Walks se­ries, please email me on: kaylind­ley@xtra.co.nz

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