A group of hunters have laid down their guns, picked up automatic stoat traps and hiked into the Kaimanawa Forest Park to establish an extensive pest control trap network to protect the endangered whio (blue duck).

A recent survey by the recreational hunter-led group has revealed a small and vulnerable whio population of one breeding pair in each of the Kaimanawa Forest Park's Kaipo and Oamaru streams.

These two pairs are just a few of the estimated 3000 whio left in existence. The whio is endemic to New Zealand, and its population has been steadily dwindling since the introduction of stoats, possums and rats.

"For some time now the group has been working with the Department of Conservation on a variety of volunteer projects to aid in local conservation efforts, including clearing bush tracks and maintaining DOC huts in the park,"says Kaimanawa Hunter Liaison Group co-ordinator Gary Harwood.

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"We decided to put our hunting knowledge to use and work together to help make a pest-free sanctuary in the Kaimanawa Forest Park so our endangered whio can flourish."

The group has been granted vehicle access to a remote part of the forest park through the private Poronui Lodge property, without which the project would not be possible. Earlier this month the hunters installed 108 automatic traps over a two-day layout along 10km of the Kaipo Stream.

The trap, developed by Wellington conservation technology company Goodnature, is the world's only predator trap which self-resets up to 24 times before it needs to be serviced by a human. It has been proven to reduce pest populations down to near undetectable levels and keep them suppressed of rats and stoats.

Gary says the Kaimanawa Hunter Liaison Group is made up of volunteers from multiple hunting groups, including the Central North Island Sika Foundation, Hunters and Habitats, and New Zealand Deer Stalkers Association Taupo branch. They meet with DOC twice a year to discuss topics of mutual interest.

Each group contributed $5000 towards this project, with Bayleys Real Estate Taupo contributing another $5000 for the Sika Foundation. The $20,000 will be committed to controlling invasive predator species in the Kaipo Stream area to extend this initiative throughout the Park.