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New Zealand gov't aims to make country predator-free by 2050

Reporter: Owen Poland 丨 CCTV.com

09-26-2016 17:33 BJT

New Zealand was once a safe haven for rare birds. However, an invasion of predators has slowly destroyed the native wildlife to the point where even the flightless Kiwi is now an endangered species.

As a result, the government has taken the drastic step of declaring war on the pests with the goal of making the country predator-free by 2050. And, as CCTV correspondent  reports, the battle is being fought on many fronts.

He's on the front-line of New Zealand's fight to exterminate pests. A cross bred terrier hunting for rats.

New Zealand has used conservation dogs for more than a century to protect endangered species on offshore islands - but wiping out every mainland predator within thirty years is the new target.

"If we can deal with the pests on the mainland as well and make New Zealand predator free, it's going to take a whole lot of pressure off the really sensitive pieces of conservation estate," said Fin Buchanan, island biosecurity ranger.

Rats, cats and stoats attacking nests are a major problem. But public enemy Number One are an estimated 50 million brushtailed possums who're wiping out native forests and birds.

"And it's been estimated that every year they eat 26 million of our native birds. So that's 26 million birds disappearing every year from predators such as this," said James Russell, Auckland University Conservation.

This is one of the many endangered species that conservationists are trying to protect. And because the rare brown Kiwi can't fly, it's an easy target for predators who raid nests and eat birds.

New Zealand's Kiwi population has shrunk to just 70,000, so Auckland Zoo is breeding birds to release on predator-free islands - and eventually the mainland.

"For every 100 Kiwi chicks that hatch in the wild, 95 per cent of them are killed before they even reach six months of age. So the purpose of the Operation Nest Egg programme is to get them through that really early vulnerable stage in their life when they're most vulnerable to predation, by particularly stoats," said Natalie Clark, Auckland Zoo bird keeper.

Hunters do their best, shooting possums for their fur. But aerial drops of bait laced with deadly 1,080 poison is the most effective control method in remote mountainous areas.

Unfortunately the poison sometimes kills other wildlife too, so scientists are searching for more environmentally-friendly solutions - like poisons that target specific pests.

"It's these kind of inventions which are going to be really important for, not just achieving the predator free goal, but developing a new economy here that can be exported to the world," said James Russell.

On the outskirts of Auckland City, Ark in the Park is an eco-restoration project that's allowed some rare species to return from the brink of extinction.

"This is the North Island robin, the toutouwai, they're one of the success stories of Ark in the Park project," said Gillian Wadams, Ark in the Park project manager.

1,000 year old Kauri trees are also flourishing - and so are insects and frogs - because rats, stoats and possums are controlled by traps serviced by hundreds of volunteers

Gillian said, "Our conservation efforts are highly dependant on the goodwill, enthusiasm, skills and energy of volunteers, so they're absolutely essential."

Some say it's impossible, but the ultimate goal is to restore the birds - and their songs - to a nation where forests have literally been silenced by predators.

James said, "You would wake up in the morning to the noise of all of these birds, and that's what we want to return New Zealand towards."

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