If the success of the rat-kill on Rakitu Island is anything to go by, NZ is unlikely to be clear of pests by 2050.

Back in July, Prime Minister John Key and his Pied Piper, Conservation Minister Maggie Barry, committed the Government to making New Zealand pest-free by 2050, with all offshore island reserves predator-free by 2025.

On Sunday evening, head in the ceiling, hammering a rat bait lozenge to the nearest wooden joist, that glorious rat-free day couldn't come soon enough.

There's nothing quite as unsettling as the clatter of rat claws on the pressed metal ceiling above my head. Even after 30 or more years of annual visitations, you never quite lose the apprehension that one will find a weak spot in the 100-year-old metal sheeting, and come tumbling through looking for a fight.

So I admire Barry's mission to rid the country of rats - and other noxious immigrants - within 35 years, a task I've singularly failed to achieve over a similar period in my Ponsonby villa.


But given her department's ongoing failure to rid little Rakitu Island, 2.5km off Great Barrier Island, of its infestation of ship rats, I'm not holding my breath.

Barry and DoC are now pledging to make all offshore island reserves predator-free within nine years.

Yet 23 years after it persuaded the Bolger Government to buy 329ha Rakitu as a conservation reserve, rats continue to devastate the bird population, and dine out on increasingly rare skinks and insect life.

This despite DoC's Auckland conservancy in its 1993 submission to head office in favour of purchase, arguing that as Rakitu was free of other mammalian predators, "removal of just a single mammalian predator would be a relatively easy task".

This, the submission argued, "would allow many of the remaining native fauna species [to] recover." It would also allow species that had been wiped out, including several seabird species, red-crowned parakeet, robins and saddleback to be relocated.

Auckland DoC argued "the number of such large islands that have the above potential is absolutely finite. The availability of Rakitu provides an exceptional opportunity".

The island was duly bought, but more than two decades later, the rats are still happily munching their way through the precious fauna and flora. This despite DoC's website inviting visitors to "Rakitu Island . . . a pest-free scenic reserve".

more than two decades later, the rats are still happily munching their way through the precious fauna and flora.


Not even long time battler for Hauraki Gulf heritage, local politician Mike Lee, has managed to shame them into action. Though not for want of trying. In 2013 he prodded DoC into seeking funding from the Nature Heritage Fund - of which Lee was a member - for the rat eradication project. The application was successful and $190,000 was made available.

In September that year, then Conservation Minister Nick Smith, local MP Nikki Kaye and Lee travelled to Rakitu to announce the good news. Dr Smith declared "today we are making a commitment . . . to rid Rakitu Island of rats". He said it would take two to three years to complete.

The eradication programme was supposed to have occurred last winter (2015) but nothing happened. In January this year, DoC Director-General Lou Sanson, in a letter to Lee, blamed the failure on "the 2014 storm event" which had caused serious damage to staff infrastructure on neighbouring Great Barrier Island. The priority was to build a new office. The poisoning was delayed a year.

Now comes word from inside DoC, that as of now, they haven't even started planning an eradication programme. The delay is blamed on multiple staff changes in the Great Barrier office.

Instead, they're thinking of hiring a part-time contractor to prepare an eradication plan. But an actual toxin drop is unlikely in the 2016/17 financial year!

These ongoing delays in what DoC itself has endlessly described as "a relatively easy task," to rid one little island of a single pest, doesn't auger well for the Government's grand DoC-led, Predator Free NZ 2050 campaign.

"Now is the time for a concerted long-term nationwide effort to rid ourselves of the introduced rats, stoats and possums that have placed so much of our natural heritage in jeopardy," said Barry at the campaign launch.

She called for a massive effort by all New Zealanders. Up in my ceiling with my rat bait, I've heard the call. Shame she can't get her own staff to join the crusade.