Wellington, New Zealand – An area of remote forest in East Taranaki, where the haunting melody of the kokako has been missing from the dawn chorus for over two decades, is the frontline in the battle to save New Zealand’s endangered birds.
A ground-breaking large-scale field trial of automatic traps designed to kill possums humanely and with minimal labour costs is about to be undertaken by community-led conservation group the East Taranaki Environment Trust (ETET), with support from WWF-New Zealand.
The study of 218 automatic traps over 277 hectares of podocarp forest aims to reduce possum numbers to such low levels that endangered kokako can be successfully reintroduced. The grant from WWF, in partnership with the Tindall Foundation, is providing $20,000 towards the purchase of the traps.
WWF’s terrestrial conservation programme manager, Marc Slade, says New Zealand is facing a conservation crisis: “We need urgent action to protect our native birds and this begins with eradicating pest populations. The battle to reclaim our forests from these introduced predators will require ingenuity and innovation as well as ongoing commitment from land owners and community groups like ETET.”
The humane traps, designed and manufactured by Wellington company Goodnature, are specially designed to kill only possums and to avoid the accidental killing of native birds or other animals. They can kill up to 12 animals before needing to be reset.
Karen Schumacher, founder of the East Taranaki Environment Trust that works to protect kiwi in the area said: ”We are excited to be embarking on a year-long study of automatic possum traps. This new technology, used alongside current trapping and poisioning methods that control stoats and rats, could reduce predator numbers to a point where not only kiwi but the entire ecosystem flourishes. I look forward to the day when kokako sing again in this forest.“
Possums and other introduced mammals including rats and stoats are prolific killers of many of New Zealand’s native birds, preying on eggs and nesting birds, and competing for food sources such as berries and flowers. Eradicating these pests is essential to conservation efforts to protect kiwi, kokako and other threatened or endangered bird species.
If the study is successful in reducing possum and other predator numbers below the known threshold at which kokako thrive, then a reintroduction of kokako is planned for 2013. They disappeared from the area in 1989.
Stu Barr from Goodnature said: “The potential for these traps is huge. They will take a lot of the leg work out of pest control which is traditionally a very labour intensive job. In tough terrain like East Taranaki, just two people can lay 100 hectares of traps in a day that only need rechecking and servicing once a year. They could revolutionise pest control in New Zealand.“
Marc Slade said: “WWF is proud to support innovation in community conservation. We are supporting the East Taranaki Environment Trust to help them enable kokako and kiwi to flourish once again and also to develop new techniques for pest control that could benefit conservation efforts nationwide.”