NZ Takes the Fight to Pint-Size Predators
A leader in eradication campaigns, New Zealand is launching its most ambitious effort to wipe out the 30 million possums killing our native birds. The Wall Street Journal reports on the progress of the programme unveiled in mid-2016.
The country is also trying to stifle stoats, eradicate rats and generally root out its worst predators by eliminating millions of critters that have decimated native birds while playing havoc with the dairy, horticulture and forestry industries.
In a battle that marries the high-tech and the mundane, New Zealand is testing everything from drones that could one day release poison to streetlights and even tea strainers as it tries to meet a self-imposed deadline to become predator-free by 2050.
The programme gathered momentum in November when New Zealand set up a company to funnel investment to specific projects and trials accelerated on the South Island.
On the front line at Bottle Rock Peninsula, Duncan Kay leads a team of forest rangers testing deadly techniques using lures and sensors in a nature park in the Marlborough Sounds, honing the science on a problem other nations haven’t managed to solve.
Through mud and almost impenetrable ferns, Kay’s team has set up a “virtual barrier” here, half a mile wide and built of parallel lines of traps laid every 5 to 10 metres. The aim is to intercept possums, stoats and other predators.
The rest of the world is watching, especially other nations whose native species are falling prey to imported predators.
Kay says the country each year loses 25 million native birds, including the flightless kiwi. Globally, predators including cats, rats and foxes are responsible for almost 60 per cent of recent bird, mammal and reptile extinctions, according to a September study published by the US National Academy of Sciences.
New Zealand’s reputation for eliminating predators dates to a 1960s programme to create predator-free sanctuaries for threatened bird species on offshore islands.
Original article by Rob Taylor, The Wall Street Journal, January 6, 2017.