New Zealand to embark on world’s largest wild predator eradication

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Conservationists in New Zealand are embarking on the largest ever attempt to eradicate introduced predators from an inhabited island.

Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Research, a corona research institute, has signed a $2.8 million partnership with the Rakiura/Stewart Island conservation group, Predator Free Rakiura, to eradicate predators such as opossums, rats, feral cats and hedgehogs in the next four years.

The project will also include research programs to better understand how pests proliferate and how to better manage them.

Rakiura is located off the coast of the South Island and is about 180,000 hectares, with a permanent population of 400 people and approximately 45,000 visitors a year.

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The island boasts national parks, distinctive ecosystems, significant dunes, and pristine freshwater systems, and is home to many vulnerable native species, including native birds, geckos, and bats.

But the introduction of pests has affected its delicate flora and fauna, including the flightless national icon, the kiwi, and the lovable nocturnal kākāpō, the world’s heaviest and only flightless parrot.

“Currently, Rakiura is in a state of pōuri or sadness,” said Dean Whaanga, co-chairman of predator-free trust, Te Puka Rakiura Trust.

“On the surface, a visitor can see the beautiful treasure that is, however, his true mana [power] and mauri [essence] they will be recognized when the indigenous species return in numbers as our ancestors saw it,” he said.

In Maori legend, Rakiura is also known as Te Punga or Te Waka a Māui: the anchor stone of the Māui (South Island) canoe from which the great fish (North Island) was raised. It will now act as a reason to anchor the country to a predator-free national goal.

“What we learn here will help pave the way for the entire country to be predator-free,” Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Research said in a statement.

Its interim executive director, Dr. Fiona Carswell, said working together with the trust and the community is what would bring the institute’s “research” to life.

“We enjoy working with local knowledge and approaches to achieve the biodiversity aspirations for Rakiura.”

Similar predator-free projects have occurred around the world, including on the island of South Georgia in the southern Atlantic Ocean. His rat eradication covered approximately 350,000 hectares, but the population of the island is only 20-30 people.

While smaller, Rakiura has a much larger population and “unless someone else gets there first, Predator Free Rakiura will be the largest predator eradication to date globally with a community of this size,” said Chris Jones of Manaaki Whenua to Stuff.

New Zealand’s leading independent conservation group, Forest and Bird, praised the project, calling it a “hugely ambitious and important vision” that will pave the way for environmental protection in New Zealand and around the world.

“Sixty years ago, members of Forest and Bird led the first humble rat eradication on Maria Island in the Hauraki Gulf, which covers just one hectare,” said their spokesman, Dean Baigent-Mercer.

“It’s incredible that New Zealand is today investigating the removal of all introduced predators from an island 180,000 times its size.”

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