It has been a big year for the vision of a Predator Free New Zealand. My hope is that 2014 will be remembered as the start of a movement that sees New Zealand eventually rid itself of invasive mammal predators. This year was also notable for the continued gnashing of teeth over 1080, with the mast season in the beech forest forcing a major poison drop dubbed “The Battle for the Birds”. 1080 is the best weapon we have against invasive predators right now, but it is by no means perfect. That is why I am investing in finding an alternative to 1080.
Predator Free New Zealand
The Predator Free New Zealand Trust was launched in November of this year with the goal of eradicating invasive mammal predators from the country. Predator Free New Zealand has been set up to support the efforts of the many community groups already out there eradicating and controlling predators. We want to honour and celebrate the work of these community groups, as well as encourage greater effort to remove the threat to our native species from introduced predators such as rats, stoats, possums and cats.
Achieving this goal is a massive challenge, which some have likened to New Zealand’s version of putting man on the moon. However, Kiwis are world leaders in this area. We have led the way in eradicating islands – the largest being Campbell Island to our south (11,000 hectares), which was declared predator free in 2003. Our experts are sought in predator eradication operations the world over. So I am certain that we rise to the challenge, if we can harness the energy of the New Zealand public. We love the great outdoors, we love hunting, we aren’t scared of a little gore. Why not combine all three by getting involved, going into the bush or our backyard and trapping some unwanted predators?
1080 and the Battle for the Birds
This year was a mast year in many of our forests, which means a food bonanza for rats and stoats. When the food runs out, they turn to our native birds. Hence DOC’s Battle for the Birds, which involved large scale 1080 drops in our forest. 1080, like most poisons, isn’t a favourite topic of the public, but it is the best weapon we have against mammal predators at the moment. Some don’t like 1080 because it is cruel, but it is far crueler to do nothing and leave our native wildlife at the mercy of stoats and rats. 1080 might kill a handful of birds, but that is nothing compared to the decimation they face at the hands of rats and stoats.
Still, we need to do better. That is why ultimately I want a predator free New Zealand, where we don’t need to use poison anymore. This is why we need an alternative to 1080.
Investing in an alternative t0 1080
Our vision of a predator free New Zealand has hit a roadblock. We can clear small, uninhabited islands by dropping poison. But we don’t have enough helicopters to do larger areas, which means we could miss spots and give predators time to reestablish. Nor do we know how to deal with inhabited areas very well, at the moment we rely on intensive trapping efforts (which never end) or expensive predator fences (such as the one around Zealandia).
This is why I am investing in an alternative to 1080. A new company, named Zero Invasive Predators (ZIP) is spinning out of the Department of Conservation and is being funded primarily by NEXT Foundation. We are happy to also be funding this potentially critical development. The idea is to deal with predators like a war – eradicate an area and slowly expand outwards, while defending the area already eradicated against reinvasion. It will take several years to perfect, but if and when the technology is proven, we could start by clearing peninsulas around New Zealand, slowly shunting predators back until the whole country is predator free.
This is a long term game, and I don’t expect to be alive to enjoy the benefits of our native wildlife flourishing, and the dawn chorus returning to the land. But I hope my grandchildren will.