Sam Judd
Comment on the environment from nzherald.co.nz columnist Sam Judd

Sam Judd: War against rodents

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Image / iStock
Image / iStock

Ever since the Polynesians arrived in Aotearoa New Zealand about 650 years ago, rodents have altered the ecosystem of New Zealand.

Once an isolated utopia of flightless birds and dinosaur-like lizards, the islands that became New Zealand have since been plagued by rats, stoats, ferrets and other lesser-known introduced pest like Argentine ants.

Rats in particular are one of the most difficult to manage. They are often referred to as one of the few species that would survive nuclear war and are associated with some of the worst outbreaks of illness that have ever threatened the human race, such as the Black Death.

Even today, in urban areas like Pau De Lima in Brazil, rats are killing people by spreading disease at an alarming rate.

Because they can thrive in sewers, dumps and derelict buildings - where humans would fall sick and die rapidly - they have a distinct advantage against us.

After first receiving Polynesian rats, the arrival of Europeans brought the far more destructive Norwegian rats, which are now widely distributed throughout the country.

To win the war against rodents will require an effort from large swathes of our population. We cannot sit back and ask the Department of Conservation to do this alone.

Thankfully, kiwi innovators such as Goodnature have equipped us with an arsenal of highly-efficient automatic weapons that can humanely kill pest animals and then reset themselves.

We also have extremely clever units that are leading this battle, such as Predator Free NZ, who are doing a great job of sharing intelligence to people that want to take a stand for our native species.

Thousands of people already volunteer to rid the country of pests, but we need a recruitment drive to tip the scales if we want to have any hope of winning this war.

While we have been world-leading in island conservation through removal of pests which has thankfully enabled the conservation of key endangered species such as kakapo and tieke (saddlebacks), we need a much bigger concerted effort to enable such species to thrive on the mainland where people can more easily enjoy them.

The emergence of highly successful predator-free sanctuaries has given native bird life a hand-up, by providing safe zones where they can nest and reproduce.

These can contribute to a phenomenon that the late Sir Paul Callaghan described as the 'halo effect' - where 12 zones around New Zealand would have 1,000 hectares of predator free fencing, followed by a ring of intensive trapping and another of 1080 drops.

Would it not be wonderful if we could have a reputation for flourishing native species that tourists enjoy?

We know that our clean, green image is worth a huge amount also to our export sector and economic growth.

So as a start, I would have thought that more public park areas that are currently dedicated to introduced animals, such as Ambury Farm Park in Auckland, might better be utilised to create more sanctuaries near the population who would become inspired to join the war effort.

Perhaps this is a New Zealand land war that could become compulsory for the education system?

Where else in New Zealand could we provide new blockades from the invaders that would become safe havens for native animals?

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