Introduction

Dogs are helping DOC to keep islands pest-free in Northland and Fiordland.

Date:  21 May 2012

Over the past couple of months life has been busy for Occi and Cody - two of the dogs that work for the Department of Conservation (DOC). Nine-year-old Occi and his owner Miriam Ritchie (DOC Ranger) usually work in the Whangarei area. But for a few days in May 2012 their home became Secretary Island in Fiordland as Occi hunted for rats and mice. Fears that the island might have been invaded by pests were raised following the tragic loss of a fishing boat and crew that occurred in the area during late April.

Angela and Cody looking for pests on Muriwhenua Island.
Angela and Cody looking for pests on Muriwhenua Island

“Any boat that gets too close to a predator-free island can potentially introduce pests such as rats,” says Miriam. “Secretary Island is one of the few islands that have always been rodent-free. It is also large enough to offer some of our most vulnerable species a big enough area to reach quite large population sizes”.

A pregnant rat, stoat, or other such pest that gets onto a predator-free island can cause immense damage to the native species living there. Their numbers can increase quickly and therefore prompt action is important.

In the Whangarei area, the Poor Knights Islands, Bream Islands, and Taranga (Hen) and Marotere (Chicken) Islands are all predator-free, allowing for the existence of bellbirds, kōkako, tuatara and a host of other New Zealand creatures no longer present on the mainland. “These islands act as strongholds for some of the world’s most endangered species,” says Keith Hawkins, Programme Manager for Biodiversity Assets, DOC. To keep things that way DOC, in association with Ngati Wai Trust Board, uses a number of techniques including setting traps and looking for signs indicating the presence of pests. As well as this, once a year a dog with a nose well trained for sniffing out pests visits the islands. 

On 4 May 2012, while Occi and his owner were still in Fiordland, Cody and his owner Angela Newport (DOC Ranger from the Bay of Islands) continued the predator hunt on Muriwhenua Island (one of the Marotere or Chicken Islands). Fortunately, Cody and Angela found no rats. However, in 2010 evidence that rats had invaded Whatupuke Island and Lady Alice Island in the Marotere (Chicken) Islands group was found. “The only way rats could have got onto these islands was by boat,” Keith Hawkins says. “It took 6 months of work and approximately $100,000 to get rid of the rats again”.

Any boat owners looking to take their vessel close to these islands should ensure that their boat is pest-free. In this way, we can all help to ensure that some of our most endangered native species still have a chance to survive and prosper on our predator-free islands.

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