"Stoatie!” Jo calls. With a whoop and a holler, an entry is made in the TrapNZ database on my cellphone. This clever trapping app works without mobile coverage, is GPS enabled and is a vital tool for managing New Zealand’s vast network of traps. I joined Jo for a photo opportunity. Making my way further down the track, I contemplate if the birdsong is louder than when we first began our task.
While we get a great sense of satisfaction with each predator we eliminate, I don’t want my reader to think that I am glorifying death in the name of environmental care. It is factual that the destruction and havoc pests such as stoats play in New Zealand's forests, is unprecedented. One kill can equate to numerous birds, insects and invertebrates being able to live on.
Our Own Wildlife Conservation Initiative
The target for Jo and I, with our own trapping initiative, are rats and stoats. The spread of rats throughout New Zealand has had a devastating impact on our native species. This is because, many birds are ground dwellers, often living near wetlands or in damp lowland bush, introduced predators such as rats and stoats threaten these animals living, roosting or nesting near the ground. They consume birds’ eggs and nestlings, native insects and lizards, and without human intervention, would lead to the decline and eventual extinction of our native wildlife.
Stoats were introduced from Britain in the 1870s to control ‘verminous rabbits’ (which were also introduced). Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, where winters are kinder and food isn’t as scarce, stoats hunt all year round, regularly killing more than they need to survive. To level the playing field for our precious native birds, bugs and lizards, it’s vital we tackle stoats before they get a chance to breed up their numbers this spring.
Spring is a great time to get stuck into predator control in our backyard. All that is required is a belt bag full of trapping tools and boots. Our track weaves up through the ngahere (forest). I love it there, the sound of the streams offer a feeling of calm that sweeps over me and I notice the smallest joys like the tiny fern fronds unfurling.
Rat & Stoat Traps
In each trap, we place peanut butter as a bait to attract the pests beside an egg which is the visual lure. Eventually, after a successful trap, I clear the rat from the trap, flicking it into the bushes - but sometimes we leave the rats near the trap to attract more prey. Some rats are partially eaten before we remove them and on the next trap check we discover a stoat has been caught, returning to finish its meal and paying the supreme price!
The traps we use are DOC 200 traps which are sturdy and lethal, the most humane trap for the speed in which it kills. At my first trap, I grab my drill, unscrew the screw and apprehensively lift the lid. Although I have checked hundreds of traps, it is still exciting. Funnily enough, catching no pests in the traps also feels like a reward, a positive sign as well, indicating there are fewer pests around.
We are privileged to have the support of Franz Josef Department of Conservation and ZIP Zero Invasive Predators on this project. We were inspired by our work with friends at Project Early Bird.
Keen on the outdoors, we often hike around our local area so we can pass on all our knowledge about Westland Tai Poutini National Park.