Rotoroa Island a Bold Wildlife Experiment

Rotoroa Island in the Hauraki Gulf is tiny, at just 82 hectares, but don’t let its diminutiveness fool you: big things are happening here. Over the past few years the island has become the site of a quiet, but grand, conservation experiment, the Guardian reports.

What would happen if you populated an island with a whole suite of endangered species, some of which were never found there to begin with? And what would happen if you didn’t fence the island off and keep pesky humans out, but let people – school groups even – tramp through the grounds?

“We are deliberately aiming not to recreate an ecosystem, but to create an ecosystem anew,” director of Auckland Zoo Jonathan Wilcken says. “We don’t frankly care very much whether those species existed on Rotoroa Island.”

Wilcken’s words – a shot across the bow of traditional conservation – marks just how radical and interesting the experiment on Rotoroa Island has become. The zoo has partnered with the island’s private mangers, the Rotoroa Island Trust, to conduct this wild endeavour: creating a new, managed ecosystem on a patch of land rising from the North Island’s Hauraki Gulf.

Wilcken adds: “Nor do we care very much if the species could sustain themselves if we weren’t there to manage them.”

In a 64-page management document, conservationists have outlined big plans to bring 20 species to the island over the next few years. They have already introduced four in less than 12 months. The document also details how conservationists will meticulously manage the environment to give their new arrivals the best chance of thriving.

Indeed, Rotoroa is already becoming an ecosystem that, according to nature, was never supposed to be. But, here it is for all that: booming with the songs of rare birds, rearing up baby kiwi, racing with threatened skinks, and soon welcoming one of the rarest birds on the planet. It’s arguably a tiny bright spot in a wash of what’s often seen as conservation gloom, a sanctuary for a nation’s beloved species, and a place that proves Homo sapiens don’t have to only destroy nature – maybe we can create it, too.

The conservation initiative at Rotoroa Island was instigated by Auckland philanthropists Neal and Annette Plowman, who continue to back to development and operation of the island through their NEXT Foundation.

Original article by: Jeremy Hance, The Guardian, April 21, 2015

Photo by: Rotoroa Island Trust

Tags: Auckland Zoo  conservation initiative  Guardian (The)  Hauraki Gulf  Jonathan Wilcken  NEXT Foundation  Rotoroa  Rotoroa Island  Rotoroa Island Trust  

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