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Anna Bradley- Smith ex­am­ines ex­tinc­tion in New Zealand

Through­out his­tory, block­ades have been over­come by new ways of think­ing and ex­per­i­men­ta­tion – try, try and try again, as the say­ing goes. This faith in the hu­man abil­ity to find so­lu­tions has led to every­thing from peni­cillin to elec­tric­ity to fly­ing ma­chines and it con­tin­ues to push so­ci­ety for­ward. So, in a reg­u­lar sec­tion called Can We Fix It? Idea­log and Ki­wibank look at some of the world's big­gest – and, in some cases, most in­tractable – prob­lems and the home­grown busi­nesses do­ing their bit to tackle them. This is­sue, Anna Bradley-Smith looks at how we're sav­ing our na­tive an­i­mals from ex­tinc­tion. We all know the name of the na­tive bird that stood over three me­tres tall and weighed in at more than 200 kilo­grams. It is, of course, the moa.

And although it lives on in our sto­ry­telling, not one per­son to­day has seen a moa in the flesh. The same can be said about the beau­ti­ful huia and the Chatham bell­bird. Since hu­man set­tle­ment, New Zealand has lost one species of bat, at least 51 birds, three frogs, three lizards, one fresh­wa­ter fish, four plant species and a num­ber of

in­ver­te­brates. The sad tale of ex­tinc­tion comes from any num­ber of causes, in­clud­ing preda­tors, habi­tat loss, disease and hunt­ing.

Although we have smartened to our ef­fects on the environment and are well aware of the im­por­tance of our na­tive species, we still stand to lose na­tional trea­sures like the Maui's dol­phin and kākāpō – just two of the more than 200 crit­i­cally en­dan­gered species in New Zealand – if we don’t step up and help.

There are groups across the coun­try big and small, from well-known agen­cies like DoC and For­est and Bird, to grow­ing projects like the Good­na­ture hu­mane preda­tor traps and The Ca­cophony Project, ded­i­cated to im­prov­ing the out­comes of na­tive species. And of course, there is the am­bi­tious na­tional goal set by the Govern­ment – and sup­ported by Ki­wibank – to be preda­tor free by 2050. This year’s Govern­ment bud­get al­lo­cated more than $600 mil­lion to­wards en­vi­ron­ment­fo­cused projects, in­clud­ing $100 mil­lion for a Green In­vest­ment Fund and $181 mil­lion for DOC.

Lo­cal coun­cils are ac­tively work­ing to pro­tect ar­eas along­side iwi and govern­ment de­part­ments and the pri­vate sec­tor in an ef­fort to stave off fur­ther ex­tinc­tion and, im­por­tantly, com­mu­nity groups are also mo­bil­is­ing around the goal.

The Is­land Bay Marine Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­tre in Welling­ton has been in­spir­ing chil­dren and adults alike to learn about marine life since open­ing in 1996, work­ing with the mantra that “if you know what’s there, you’ll care”. The cen­tre sits in the mid­dle of the Ta­put­eranga Marine Re­serve and was in­stru­men­tal in get­ting the area re­serve sta­tus in 2008. Over the last ten years, the re­gen­er­a­tion and re­cov­ery of marine species in the 9km area has sur­prised sci­en­tists and lo­cals alike.

Then there’s Zealan­dia, the world’s first fully fenced eco­sanc­tu­ary – which is also in Welling­ton – and the BrookWaimarama sanc­tu­ary in Nel­son. These are just some of the huge projects safe­guard­ing our ecosys­tem.

In our big cities, ef­forts are be­ing made to dis­en­tan­gle eco­nomic devel­op­ment from en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion, with many busi­nesses big and small fo­cus­ing on sus­tain­able growth.

Ki­wis’ ded­i­ca­tion to mak­ing sure our na­tives hang around is turn­ing the tide on free roam­ing preda­tors, be­cause, well, how could we be Ki­wis with no kiwi?

DoC deputy di­rec­tor gen­eral Mervyn English says although New Zealan­ders have al­ways cared about the environment, over the last 10 years aware­ness has grown.

“I think there’s just a gen­eral un­der­stand­ing of how im­por­tant the environment is that we live in, the whole level of con­scious­ness is grow­ing quite rapidly.

“There are some busi­ness groups that go out ev­ery Satur­day morn­ing and do their trap­ping just like they used to go to rugby.”

Ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy have also led to an up­surge in mo­men­tum in de­vel­op­ing traps and in­no­va­tive ways of tar­get­ing preda­tors with “a whole new level of creative think­ing”, he says.

English sees that mo­men­tum car­ry­ing on in the years ahead, es­pe­cially with the goal of Preda­tor Free 2050. Con­ser­va­tion served fresh Farm­ing a na­tive an­i­mal for the din­ner plate doesn’t sound like the most eth­i­cal con­ser­va­tion move, but for New Zealand’s koura, it’s prov­ing an ef­fec­tive way to en­sure sur­vival while in­creas­ing nat­u­ral habi­tats and other fresh­wa­ter life.

Aqua­cul­ture man­ager John Hol­lows first found out about koura, na­tive fresh­wa­ter cray­fish, at univer­sity. The in­ter­est grew quickly and he ended up do­ing a mas­ters on them.

“I thought they were such a cool thing to work with, so I looked at the land use ef­fects on growth and diet – con­ser­va­tion things, I guess – and thought there was po­ten­tial to farm them if you had a bit of time and a bit of scale.”

Eight years later, Hol­lows was ap­proached by Ernslaw One, which shared the idea of koura farm­ing in forests. Fast for­ward six years and Hol­lows and his team have mul­ti­plied 60 fire ponds in South­land and Otago forestry blocks to

2,000, and brought the species back from en­dan­ger­ment.

“I ba­si­cally got given a blank sheet: ‘here you go, here’s a for­est. Start farm­ing.’ Forestry was go­ing through a bit of a slump in dol­lars at that stage and they were look­ing for other op­tions to gain rev­enue. Down here it’s pre­dom­i­nantly Dou­glas Fir, which has a 45-year ro­ta­tion time.”

He says ar­eas that couldn’t be planted and would typ­i­cally re­gen­er­ate into gorse and broom were turned into open wa­ter wet­land ar­eas. With a strong con­ser­va­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal ethic, Hol­lows hasn’t used any ar­ti­fi­cial prod­ucts or chem­i­cal sprays to farm the koura.

“So it’s not only the cray­fish benefitting, but a whole lot of in­ver­te­brate life, and bird life. Frogs are start­ing to ap­pear as well,” he says. “Some nights out in the for­est you can barely hear your­self think with all the frogs go­ing off.”

He says in the past, en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns haven’t been top of the list for con­tract­ing crews, but now they are tak­ing real care and pride in en­sur­ing no trees or sed­i­ment get in the wa­ter­ways.

Hol­lows got to­gether with Fed­er­ated Farm­ers, Fish and Game, DoC, lo­cal runanga and forestry com­pa­nies to broaden the con­ver­sa­tion about clean wa­ter­ways and how to look af­ter koura, say­ing: “If you can get the cray­fish back you have to look af­ter the habi­tat and environment, and if you look af­ter the environment then every­thing else flows around it. While they are re­ally tough on some fronts, they’re quite sus­cep­ti­ble to sed­i­ment and chem­i­cal use and it doesn’t take much tweak­ing of what ev­ery­one is do­ing at the mo­ment to look af­ter the wa­ter­ways.”

Long li ve the King of the For­est

At 1,500-years-old, there’s no ar­gu­ment Tāne Mahuta is the king of the for­est.

The trea­sured kauri tree that stands at 51.5 me­tres tall with a girth of 13.77 me­tres in the Waipoua for­est is a liv­ing le­gend. But his kind are in danger, with New Zealand’s na­tive kauri tree now la­belled as un­der threat af­ter years of dec­i­ma­tion from the kauri dieback disease.

The disease, caused by a fun­gus­like pathogen called phy­toph­thora agath­idi­cida, was dis­cov­ered in 2008 but is sus­pected of killing kauri since the 1950s. Although lit­tle is known about kauri dieback, it’s thought to be trans­mit­ted by soil rather than wind or birds, putting hu­man footwear in the fir­ing line for the disease’s rapid spread.

In or­der to man­age the disease, MPI, DoC, re­gional coun­cils in the north of the North Is­land and Māori have come to­gether to form the Kauri Dieback Pro­gramme.

MPI’s man­ager of re­cov­ery and pest man­age­ment John San­son says the over­all goal of the pro­gramme is to have the mauri and in­tegrity of kauri forests sus­tained by 2024, de­spite the pres­ence of kauri dieback.

“Kauri are an iconic species and we all need to take ac­tion to pro­tect and pre­serve these taonga for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

“They’re a key part of the in­dige­nous forests of the up­per North Is­land and are one of the largest and long­est-liv­ing tree species in the world.”

He says a lot of on-the-ground work is be­ing done to help pre­vent the spread of dieback, such as im­prov­ing track and hy­giene in­fra­struc­ture, pro­vid­ing ad­vice to land own­ers and com­mu­nity groups, and clos­ing tracks to re­duce the risk of the disease spread­ing.

Sci­en­tific re­search is also a vi­tal part of the re­sponse to the pathogen. He says work is be­ing done on iden­ti­fy­ing and un­der­stand­ing the disease and how it spreads, de­vel­op­ing ways of manag­ing it, un­der­tak­ing base­line sur­veil­lance to de­ter­mine disease pres­ence, and us­ing be­hav­iour change to en­cour­age peo­ple to fol­low good biose­cu­rity hy­giene prac­tices.

Sci­en­tists are also look­ing into the use of phos­phite as a tem­po­rary treat­ment to boost nat­u­ral de­fences and at how some trees pos­si­bly have a nat­u­ral im­mu­nity. Ae­rial sur­veil­lance is also be­ing used to de­ter­mine tree health.

“Pro­tect­ing kauri from dieback needs ev­ery­one to play their part,” San­son says.

Key to this is tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for biose­cu­rity hy­giene when vis­it­ing kauri forests, forests that house some of our coun­try’s most trea­sured and oft-shied-

away from na­tive species, weta.

Although now only found on Lit­tle Barrier Is­land, New Zealand’s na­tive we­ta­punga (gi­ant weta), which has out­lived the di­nosaurs, has made homes out of kauri for cen­turies.

Its more com­mon cousins are found through­out New Zealand’s kauri pop­u­la­tions, along with a num­ber of other na­tive in­sects, birds and plants that call the king of the for­est home. And to keep it that way, it can be as sim­ple as clean­ing and dis­in­fect­ing our shoes.

Preda­tors Be Gone

Get rid of rats, stoats and pos­sums in New Zealand and we’ll get kiwi roam­ing in our back­yards. That is the Preda­tor Free 2050 mis­sion, ac­cord­ing to pro­gramme man­ager Brent Beav­ens.

“We’ve clearly iden­ti­fied over the years these ones are hav­ing the big­gest im­pact on our bio­di­ver­sity and we’ve done a lot of con­trol, we’re now at the point where we know to­tal re­moval will en­hance our birdlife, bats and lizards and every­thing else as­so­ci­ated, and pre­vent ex­tinc­tion.”

Preda­tor Free 2050, an­nounced in 2016, is the am­bi­tious project to rid New Zealand of preda­tors in the next 32 years. With­out fight­ing for that goal, we risk fur­ther ex­tinc­tions and the over­all re­duc­tion in global bio­di­ver­sity.

“You don’t know what you’re los­ing, you can lose your na­tional iden­tity but it might also be the next cure for cancer sit­ting in one of these species,” Beav­ens says.

The project is built off New Zealand’s is­land erad­i­ca­tion work and com­mu­nity con­ser­va­tion ini­tia­tives of the 1990s, which saw a num­ber of preda­tor fenced ar­eas pop­ping up across the coun­try. The team be­hind Preda­tor Free 2050 are tasked with co­or­di­nat­ing ef­forts na­tion­ally in a co­he­sive way and break­ing new ground as preda­tor re­moval ef­forts move into cities and farm­land.

As well as the health and so­cial ben­e­fits peo­ple get from be­ing in green spa­ces around na­tive species, the team is ex­pect­ing eco­nomic ben­e­fits by re­duc­ing the ef­fects of pos­sums and rats on the agri­cul­tural sec­tor, Beav­ens says.

“The gen­eral thing in New Zealand is what makes us spe­cial is our cul­ture, our na­tive species and our land­scapes, so if we want to re­tain that we have to be quite ac­tive in that space.”

Beav­ens says the ben­e­fit of set­ting such a clear goal has been that peo­ple have re­ally got be­hind it, and there has been a grow­ing align­ment in ef­fort and re­search.

“We’re so close to the tech­nol­ogy around achiev­ing erad­i­ca­tion that we can push to com­pletely re­move these an­i­mals and not have the on­go­ing in­vest­ment.”

The team is work­ing on break­through tech­nol­ogy and science, in­clud­ing long life lures, and new tox­ins that tar­get spe­cific an­i­mals such as rats, feral cats and stoats, and it runs a pro­gramme look­ing at tech­nolo­gies and prac­tices they can ac­cel­er­ate out. ZIP (Zero In­va­sive Preda­tors) is de­vel­op­ing an erad­i­ca­tion tech­nique us­ing 1080 called 1080 to zero us­ing nat­u­ral bound­aries of rivers and moun­tain tops to de­fend the treated area.

Other projects in­de­pen­dent of Preda­tor Free 2050 but with sym­bi­otic goals are mak­ing head­wind us­ing tech­nol­ogy and so­cial net­work­ing, in­clud­ing Squawk Squad and The Ca­cophony Project. The Ca­cophony Project, a mix of tech­ni­cal in­no­va­tion and

You don’t know what you’re l os­ing, you can l ose your na­tional i den­tity but i t might also be the next cure for cancer sit­ting i n one of these species. Brent Beav­ens

con­ser­va­tion, was founded by in­ven­tor/ en­tre­pre­neur Grant Ryan. Ini­tially a project to record bird­song and cre­ate an au­dio data­base to es­ti­mate pop­u­la­tion, it is now us­ing AI, lur­ing preda­tors with light and sound, ob­serv­ing habi­tats with ther­mal cam­eras, iden­ti­fy­ing threats with ma­chine learn­ing and elim­i­nat­ing them. Ryan says the method could in­crease trap­ping ef­fi­ciency by 80,000 times.

“Moore’s law means any so­lu­tion will get twice as good or half the price ev­ery cou­ple of years, so we’ll be preda­tor free way be­fore 2050. It is a way for the New Zealand tech com­mu­nity to solve one of the coun­try’s big­gest is­sues.”

The project is cur­rently work­ing on a new sound lure, im­prov­ing the cam­era and find­ing an au­to­mated way to elim­i­nate preda­tors – most likely a paint ball gun with poi­son as the an­i­mals are all groomers. Ryan says the project is an en­tirely pri­vately funded, open source non-profit, as “this is a bit too wacky for any cur­rent govern­ment pro­grammes”.

Beav­ens says although every­thing needs some level of con­trol and con­sid­er­a­tion, he has no qualms with the re­search into tox­ins or gene edit­ing science like Crispr, but he doubts New Zealand would rush into any new tool. What ex­cites him the most is de­vel­op­ing bar­ri­ers to move­ment, he says.

The most im­por­tant thing for Preda­tor Free 2050 is strate­gis­ing and bal­anc­ing in­vest­ments, while mak­ing sure com­mu­nity em­pow­er­ment re­mains core, Beav­ens says. DoC rangers are of­fer­ing com­mu­nity train­ing pro­grammes to cre­ate preda­tor elim­i­na­tion plans, which he says have been very pop­u­lar.

“That’s where peo­ple want to work, in their own back­yard.”


New Zealand is seen as a global leader in is­land pest erad­i­ca­tion and con­trol, and there’s plenty of op­por­tu­nity to flaunt it with over 600 nearshore is­lands. From the al­most sub­trop­i­cal Ker­madecs to the Suban­tar­tic Camp­bell Is­land group, a num­ber of the is­lands show what al­most un­mod­i­fied New Zealand ecosys­tems could look like. They host one of the world’s most di­verse range of seabirds – from tropic birds to pen­guins – and are the last refuge for an­i­mals and plants, in­clud­ing tu­atara, lizards and some large in­ver­te­brate like the we­ta­punga.

But how­ever close to un­touched, hu­man ex­plo­ration and set­tle­ment has left its legacy. Be­cause of this, DOC man­ages about 220 is­lands larger than five hectares and hun­dreds of smaller is­lands and rock stacks. With years of trap­ping, poi­son­ing and con­trol, 100 is­lands are now pest free, and pests have been re­moved from al­most all of DOC’s 50 is­land na­ture re­serves, many of which are internationally ac­claimed for their con­ser­va­tion projects fo­cused on species such as the black robin, kākāpō and tu­atara.

Those is­lands in­clude a num­ber in the Hau­raki Gulf Marine Park, Bay of Is­lands, Chatham Is­lands and in the Suban­tar­tic area. Re­cently the govern­ment an­nounced its plan to erad­i­cate pests from the 46,000 hectare Subantarc­tic Auck­land Is­land, the most am­bi­tious is­land pest erad­i­ca­tion pro­gramme so far. Con­ser­va­tion min­is­ter Eu­ge­nie Sage said $2 mil­lion would be ded­i­cated to plan­ning and un­der­stand­ing the scale and com­plex­ity of the prob­lem, and would help guide fund­ing de­ci­sions about erad­i­cat­ing pigs, cats and mice. DOC is work­ing closely with Ngāi Tahu.

She said the de­ci­sion to pro­ceed would re­quire a long-term com­mit­ment of re­sources and ef­fort, with early es­ti­mates sug­gest­ing erad­i­ca­tion could cost up to $50 mil­lion. The ef­fort would ce­ment the coun­try’s rep­u­ta­tion as a world leader in preda­tor con­trol, she said.

An­tipodes Is­land, also in the Subantarc­tic, was re­cently de­clared preda­tor free af­ter a years-long ef­fort pro­tect­ing the bird and in­sect life from mice, and South Ge­or­gia Is­land ex­pe­ri­enced the same suc­cess last month. Although a Bri­tish ter­ri­tory, New Zealand’s world-renowned is­land con­ser­va­tion ex­per­tise was called on to rid the is­land of ro­dents for the first time in 200 years, em­ploy­ing the skills of Kiwi field bi­ol­o­gists and plan­ners, and three ded­i­cated North­landers. DoC dog handler Miriam Ritchie and her four-legged com­pan­ions Will and Ahu spent months trekking hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres across the rugged is­land search­ing for ro­dents that sur­vived ae­rial poi­son drops. And, in the fu­ture, should ge­netic ma­nip­u­la­tion be deemed safe, it seems like these pests are on a hid­ing to noth­ing and will be no match for hu­man in­ge­nu­ity.

This i s a bit too wacky for any cur­rent govern­ment pro­grammes. Grant Ryan

A ro­dent-hunt­ing dog on South Ge­or­gia Is­land. Credit: South Ge­or­gia Her­itage Trust / Oliver Prince

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