Conservation Dogs Pai and Abby aboard a DOC boat on their way to work on the Hauraki Gulf
Image: Corin Walker Bain ©


Specially-trained dogs have been unleashed on Auckland’s islands to guard our unique native birds against predators.

Date:  12 April 2017

The pest-free islands of the Hauraki Gulf are Auckland’s favourite marine playground and a global hotspot for endangered birds, yet sneaky predators like possums, stoats and rats are always looking for a breach in the islands’ defences.

In November, a pack of 20 specially-trained Conservation Dogs and their handlers converged on a dozen islands in the inner Hauraki Gulf for a week. The dogs also searched for predators in the pest-free sanctuaries of the Shakespear and Tāwharanui regional parks.

The initiative was made possible thanks to our Conservation Dogs Programme supporting partner Kiwibank. Kiwibank is joining DOC and Predator Free New Zealand Trust in their battle to help the country achieve its goal of eradicating predators by 2050.

Eco-friendly pest detection

New Zealand was the first country in the world to use dogs for conservation, and is now a global leader in the field. We have 55 dogs trained to find protected species, and 25 predator dogs who sniff out destructive pests such as rats, stoats, and feral cats.

Dogs’ extraordinary sense of smell enables them to find pests up to 40 times faster than would be possible with other methods, saving DOC significant amounts of money and time. They deliver results instantly, with near-perfect accuracy, and are a non-invasive and eco-friendly way to detect pests.

The Hauraki Gulf is an important breeding ground for 25 species of seabird, many of which are fighting for their survival. Fin Buchanan, who runs the pest detection team of the Conservation Dogs Programme, says it’s vital that the islands’ pest surveillance network of traps, tracking tunnels and chew cards is periodically checked.

“We always thought it would be great to get all the pest detection dog-handlers together to do a blitz on the pest-free islands in the Hauraki Gulf, but DOC could never afford it. Kiwibank’s sponsorship of the Conservation Dogs Programme has made this possible,” he says. “It gives conservation a big voice.”

Conservation dog Milo and handler.
Conservation dog Milo and dog-handler Brad Windust
Image: Corin Walker Bain | One Shot © 

Conservation dog Pai and handler.
Conservation dog Pai and handler Fin Buchanan
Image: Corin Walker Bain | One Shot © 

Cat and mouse game

In addition to being exceptional pest detectors, Conversation Dogs are an important tool in educating Kiwis about the need to protect our natural environment from predators. Fin’s dog, Pai, and Pai’s half-sister, Piri, have their own Facebook page and are a huge hit at public events.

Fin says the Hauraki Gulf predator blitz was a chance for experienced handlers to share their skills with newbies. DOC also brought along experts to update the handlers with information about small mammal science and to conduct scent detectability trials.

The dogs didn’t come away from the Hauraki Gulf empty-pawed, finding signs of a feral cat in Shakespear Regional Park and a mouse on Motuketekete Island.

DOC will now be able to target its pest control efforts to the areas where the predators were discovered, helping to conserve our extraordinary wilderness areas for generations to come.

Group Shot of our hardworking Conservation Dog-handlers and their dogs
Our hardworking Conservation Dog-handlers and their dogs on Motutapu Island
Image: Corin Walker Bain | One Shot ©

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