Date: 05 June 2013
Rodent-indicating dogs Occi and Moss and their trainer/handler Miriam Ritchie have had a busy season.
The team from the Department of Conservation (DOC) is part of Conservation Dogs NZ, which includes species dogs that find kiwi, tuatara, and brown teal, and dogs trained to hunt goats, pigs, and deer. Miriam travels all over the country with her trained rodent-indicating dogs.
They are looking for rats or mice on rodent-free islands or behind predator-proof fences on the mainland. Miriam says of her dogs, "it never ceases to surprise me how hard they work and how determined they are. They're the best workmates you could possibly have".
Miriam with her dogs Occi and Moss finished work for the day
Based at the DOC Whangarei Area Office the team have been as far South as Stewart Island and as far north as Hen and Chicken Islands in recent weeks. Trips to the Hauraki Gulf and Hawke's Bay are still to happen. "It's definitely the season," says Miriam. "In late summer/autumn rodents are on the move as numbers explode after summer breeding. Animals are looking for new food sources and territories, and are willing to take bigger risks to find them".
Moss on the job
Rats are likely to jump onto a boat and become accidental passengers transported out to our offshore islands. When they sense land, or hear the birdsong, they can abandon ship and swim over 1 km in the right conditions.
Rats can be devastating on a pest-free island. Not only do they eat precious food for native birds such as berries, seeds, and invertebrates, they also eat eggs, chicks, and even adult birds on the nest. Mice are less destructive but still have a big impact, potentially reaching plague proportions in the absence of predators and out-competing birds for food resources.
Miriam urges boaties to be extra vigilant at this time of year, ensuring they are not taking unwelcome guests out with them. "Not storing food on your boat and having traps set on board are easy measures we can all take," she says. "Although the dogs and I love our job, ideally pests never get to these islands in the first place".