Conservationists in New Zealand are starting the biggest campaign in history to rid a populated island of imported predators.
The conservation organization Predator Free Rakiura and the crown research center Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Research have agreed to a four-year, $2.8 million partnership to eradicate predators like possums, rats, feral cats, and hedgehogs.
The project will also involve study programs to learn more about how pests multiply and the best ways to control them.
Rakiura, which is over 180,000 hectares in size and is located off the South Island’s coast, has 400 permanent residents and about 45,000 annual visitors.
The island is home to numerous endangered native species, including native birds, geckos, and bats. It also boasts national parks, diverse ecosystems, huge dunes, and pure freshwater systems.
However, the introduction of pests has harmed its fragile flora and fauna, including the beloved nocturnal kākāpō, the heaviest and only flightless parrot in the world as well as the flightless kiwi, the country’s emblem.
According to Dean Whaanga, co-chair of Te Puka Rakiura Trust, the trust that operates predator free, “Rakiura is currently in a condition of puri or melancholy.”
“On the surface a visitor might perceive the wonderful treasure that it is, but when the native species return in abundance as seen by our ancestors, its true mana [power] and mauri [essence] will be recognised,” he stated.
According to Maori mythology, Rakiura is also known as Te Punga o Te Waka a Mui, the South Island’s anchor stone from which Mui raised the enormous fish (the North Island). It will now serve as a symbol for securing a national predator-free goal for the nation.
Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Research stated in a statement, “What we discover here will help to pave the way for the whole country to become predator free.”
Working with the community and the trust, according to the institute’s acting chief executive, Dr. Fiona Carswell, is what will “bring the research to life.”
“We enjoy utilizing local expertise and methods to fulfill Rakiura’s ecological ambitions.”
All around the world, notably on the island of South Georgia in the south Atlantic Ocean, similar predator-free operations have been carried out. Its efforts to eradicate rats covered an area of almost 350,000 hectares, but the island barely had 20 to 30 residents.
Despite being smaller, Rakiura has a considerably bigger population. According to Chris Jones of Manaaki Whenua, “Predator Free Rakiura will be the largest predator eradication to date internationally with a community of this size, unless someone else gets there first.”
The project has received acclaim from New Zealand’s top independent conservation organization, Forest and Bird, who describe it as a “massively ambitious and significant goal” that will advance environmental protection both within New Zealand and internationally.
According to Dean Baigent-Mercer, the organization’s spokeswoman, “Sixty years ago Forest and Bird members performed the very first humble rat eradication on Maria Island in the Hauraki Gulf, which covers just one hectare.”
It’s astonishing that New Zealand is now studying how to eradicate all invasive predators from an island that is 180 times larger.
Lead Image: A native kākāpō on New Zealand’s Rakiura/Stewart Island, one of the species suffering from the presence of introduced predators. Photograph: Nature Picture Library/Alamy.
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