A rodent detection dog for the Department of Conservation will rest easy tonight after escaping the jaws of a charging elephant seal and enduring a night in the subantarctic wilderness of Campbell Island.

The full might of the NZ Defence Force was employed to search for Flint - the Jack Russell/Fox Terrier cross - who was spooked by an elephant seal on November 27 as he and his DoC colleagues were returning to the HMNZS Canterbury.

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Flint had been working on a conservation operation hunting rodents to protect native species on the remote island 650km south of Invercargill.

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After he became lost, an extensive ground search was launched including NZ Defence Force helicopters equipped with thermal imaging technology.

However, the effort was unable to locate Flint that night, and DoC made the "difficult decision" to abandon the search and depart the island at 11pm due to bad weather and mechanical issues.

DoC deputy director general Mike Slater says the right call was made to depart the island.

"While it was heart-breaking for all involved, the safety of all those aboard, which included DoC staff, along with personnel from MetService, the Navy, Royal New Zealand Air Force, NZ Army, and the Defence Technology Agency needed to be the first priority."

Flint and his DOC handler Richard Johnston.
Flint and his DOC handler Richard Johnston.

The focus then shifted to a rescue effort from mainland New Zealand. A helicopter equipped to fly the journey across the Southern Ocean was deployed from Heli Otago.

The helicopter, with three Heli Otago staff on board, departed Taieri near Dunedin at daybreak, reaching Campbell Island at 11am after a refuel at Enderby Island along the way.

Shortly after arrival, the crew located Flint who had made his way across the island and was dutifully waiting at Beeman base.

Slater says everyone involved is "ecstatic for the happy outcome".

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"Conservation dogs play a vital role in our efforts to keep New Zealand islands pest-free and we need as many of them as possible as we work towards a Predator Free 2050," Slater said.

"As far as we are concerned Flint is a team member and so we wanted to make sure we did everything we could to try and find him and bring him home.

Department of Conservation rodent detection dogs Kowhai and Flint.
Department of Conservation rodent detection dogs Kowhai and Flint.

"We had offers of assistance from a range of people including Niwa Vessel Tangaroa which was in the Southern Ocean at the time.

"Due to the time-sensitive nature of this rescue – with Flint wearing a muzzle and therefore unable to feed himself, we were working against the clock.

"We'd like to thank everyone involved in this rescue from the crew at Heli Otago, Kiwibank as DoC's national partner in the conservation dog programme, the Defence Force for the use of their resources, support during the initial search and ongoing support to staff on the ship and everyone else that's offered to chip in to bring Flint home," Slater said.

Kiwibank chief executive Steve Jurkovich said he was very relieved to hear of Flint's rescue with the bank serving as national partner of the Conservation Dogs Programme for more than three years.

"We're beyond delighted that Flint and his handler Richard Johnston will soon be reunited. We're pleased to have played a part in supporting the incredible rescue efforts to bring him home," Jurkovich said.

Flint arrived at Taieri Airfield today around 5pm, beating his very relieved handler Johnston home by a couple of days.