Why the Brits might want New Zealand stoats
They prey on our native birds, reduce the numbers of at-risk species such as bats and land snails, and are considered by many to be New Zealand’s ‘public enemy number one’.
The stoat, a member of the mustelid family, was introduced to the country in the 1880s to control the rabbit and hare population, but has since been considered a pest for its preference of preying on endangered wildlife.
So why are British researchers talking about bringing this locally hated pest back into the population in the United Kingdom?
According to an article published in a recent edition of Molecular Ecology, the British native stoat population was decimated by the Myxoma virus that was introduced to control the rabbit population. This means that the stoat species in New Zealand now holds more genetic variation than those in the UK.
The study found that New Zealand stoats had four mitochondrial haplotypes that were not present in the British sample.
Genetic diversity is typically considered to be beneficial to the ecosystem, which is why the article concludes by saying that “the genetic diversity conserved in introduced populations may also be considered valuable and therefore worthy of re-introduction.”
That said, New Zealand continues to make ongoing efforts to control the numbers of stoats for their threat to our native wildlife and other species.
The Tawharanui Regional Park is a prime example of effective pest control. A 2.7 km pest-proof fence isolates 550 hectares of the peninsula, where it has eradicated seven of the ten pests that once inhabited the area.
While house mice, hedgehogs and rabbits remain on the peninsula, stoats have been driven out. Since the fence was completed in 2004, native birdlife has been able to thrive, which is a large part of the reason why we see kiwis on 70 per cent of our night-time tours there.
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist