Unexpected discovery leads to breakthrough in pest eradication
The invention of the microwave, like many great human discoveries, was actually made by accident. Now, an unexpected discovery about New Zealand’s stoats may help in the battle to eradicate these pests from our country.
When the Auckland University and Landcare Research group conducted experiments on stoats, they found that - contrary to what you might expect – these pests are actually attracted to the smell of their enemies.
That is to say, rather than running from the scent of cats and ferrets, stoats will actually be drawn to areas that smell of their two common enemies.
The team discovered this after placing food sources in two locations; one that smelled of cats and ferrets, and the other where that scent was absent. Where the smell was present, the food was eaten faster.
While it’s not yet understood why stoats would opt for this option, the knowledge may now be used by conservation groups to help rid New Zealand of these pests.
Traps are a common form of predator control, and finding effective ways to lure stoats and other pests into those traps is an important part of catching as many as possible. Should the smell of cats and ferrets truly be an effective form of baiting, it could help the country work towards its predator-free goal by 2050.
Patrick Garvey, a university doctoral student working on the project, was optimistic about the discovery when speaking to the NZ Herald.
“It’s something new, and it’s something that can be used as part of other methods to ensure we do the best we can for conservation,” he explained.
Trapping is just one of many effective methods currently in use around New Zealand to help control and remove pests for the good of our native and endangered flora and fauna.
Could we have 100,000 kiwis by 2030?
Could New Zealand celebrate 100,000 kiwis (the feathered kind) by the year 2030?
That’s the lofty – and exciting – goal set out by the Department of Conservation’s new Kiwi Recovery Plan. This plan covers the decade starting in 2017, and has a $3.6 million research programme to help make those goals a reality.
Currently, there are an estimated 68,000 kiwis in New Zealand, and researchers believe that there haven’t been as many as 100,000 birds in the country for several decades, according to a recent NZ Herald article.
It’s also important to remember that there is more than one type of kiwi! Of those 100,000 the DoC plans to have roughly a third brown kiwi, a third tokoeka, almost 20,000 great spotted kiwi, and the rest made up of little spotted kiwi and rowi.
So how can New Zealand reach this goal?
One part will certainly be the continuation of work towards ridding the country of pests by 2050. This is being achieved through a range of methods, from government funding to community groups working to ensure our kiwis have the best chance of survival possible.
It also comes down to community education. Household dogs can pose a real threat to kiwis, so owners can learn about when those pets should be kept on a leash to avoid our favourite pooches from harming our national icons.
Volunteers can even get involved by contributing their time by helping set up pest traps to catch the stoats, possums, rats and mice that threaten the kiwi.
When the New Zealand Herald spoke to Kiwis for Kiwi executive director Michelle Impey, she was excited about the goal and said that it would take a lot of work but was certainly achievable.
"For those working hard on the ground, for those who donate time and money, for the corporate sponsors, and the volunteers, this is a huge recognition of the difference they've made, and great incentive to continue the good work," she said.
We are always excited to spot kiwis on our night-time eco tours in Tawharanui, and we certainly hope we’ll see more of these wonderful birds in future!
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist