It was a photo op that no media could turn up. Pictures of adorably fluffy kōkako chicks hatched this season in the Hunua Ranges thanks to a 1080 blitz on predators.
The news stories followed a report released by the Auckland Council following last year’s 1080 operation in the ranges near Auckland.
The 1150-hectare Kōkako Management Area was set up in 1994 to protect a tiny remnant population of the blue-wattled birds – at the time, there was a single breeding pair in the area. Later, birds were translocated from nearby, predator-free areas with 55 breeding pairs now present in the KMA.
But while there has been ongoing pest control in the ranges, humans were just not making any ground. Rat and possum densities were rising and in the 2014/2015 breeding season, across six monitored kōkako pairs no chicks hatched. So after a range of meetings and workshops, in October 2014, the Auckland Council decided to use the best tool currently available: aerial application of 1080.
It’s not a decision to be taken lightly. The use of 1080 generally, and aerial application specifically, sticks in the craw of some New Zealanders. But it does seem the tide is turning. Many point to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright’s 2011 report Evaluating the use of 1080 as a key step in changing attitudes.
Lately, we’re seeing more big projects go ahead. Media reports are fair, without kowtowing to vocal opponents (and credit where credit’s due, threats from a blackmailer to poison baby formula with 1080 did not elicit sensational reporting about the substance itself).
For the Auckland Council to decide on the use of aerial 1080 was another step forward in normalising the use of the poison on a widespread basis in areas much closer to home. It was bold of them and they rightly deserve the glory of the announcement they were able to make this month: of those six monitored kōkako pairs, so far there are 13 chicks this season and some birds have already started nesting again. Based on those figures, rangers estimate that could mean more than 100 fledglings from the ranges’ 55 total pairs.
Before the drop, rats were tracking a 91.6% (that’s based on how many traps or tracking tunnels showed rat presence) but that dropped to 1.03% post-op. Most significantly, no rats were found in the Kōkako Management Area after the operation.
With some private land owners on board too, the total treated area was 21,500ha – 17,000 of which was council land. At final tally, the Hunua operation costs $541,268, spread over two financial years. Previous possum control could only cover part of the ranges and cost $358,000 annually, the council says. But because the 1080 application was so successful, they predict they won’t have to plan further possum control work until winter 2017.
The operation follows the Department of Conservation’s ‘Battle for our Birds’ in 2014, which aimed to knock back a predicted rat plague following a particularly fruitful season for beech trees in the South Island. The large amount of seed produced in “mast years” was expected to provide abundant food for rats and mice, which in turn would boost their breeding season with anticipated disastrous effects for native wildlife.
It was a win for mainland conservation to have such funds and effort exerted in the protection of species that we can walk out of our doors and potentially go and see. And in some cities, residents are also seeing the benefits of good pest control.
A city’s halo
Across the Wellington region, locals are starting to become familiar with the phrase, “the halo effect”. Serious pest control around Zealandia, formerly the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, has meant the effects of the predator-fenced haven have spread into surrounding suburbs.
Residents are encouraged to do their own backyard pest control to “enhance the halo” with discounted traps and a running tally of the vermin killed.
It’s an important example of communities investing in their local wildlife, but it comes from an essential core at Zealandia which hopefully reinforces and encourages locals to do their part.
Communities can’t be the be-all-and-end-all of conservation efforts, though. As Marie Brown wrote on her blog:
Community groups are uniquely connected to place. This means that community aspirations often won’t align well with national or regional conservation priorities. The conservation achieved may well not be the best use of public resources from a national scale or even a regional scale perspective.
That’s why it’s great to see the Auckland Council take charge of the Hunua Ranges protection. And for the Department of Conservation to use their meagre funds to push ahead with the Battle for our Birds operations.
We are reaching a point in our conservation where it’s not enough to eradicate offshore islands and stick our threatened species on them. First, we’re running out of islands and second, there’s a question of scale. We can do a lot on islands, but imagine what we can do on the mainland. In people’s backyards. In the areas they hike or mountain bike in. Even in the places they stop to grab a beer.
Featured image: Flickr CC, Matt Binns.