INDEPENDENT NEWS

World's Largest Rat Eradication Project

Published: Tue 24 Jul 2001 02:15 PM
World's Largest Rat Eradication Project Running Ahead Of Schedule
Conservation Minister Sandra Lee says the world's largest rat eradication project is running ahead of schedule, following the completion of a helicopter airdrop of 120 tonnes of poisoned bait on remote Campbell Island.
"When the aerial poison drop phase of the $2.6m eradication project began at the end of June, it was expected to run until late September," Ms Lee said. "But fine weather has allowed for more flying time, resulting in a July completion date.
"This is the largest pest project funded under the Labour-Alliance coalition's Biodiversity Strategy," Ms Lee said. "Campbell Island, at 11,300 hectares, is four times the size of Kapiti Island north of Wellington which is New Zealand's largest successful rat eradication initiative to date."
The Conservation Minister said the Campbell Island project was also three times the world's most successful eradication operation involving the 3,100 hectare Langara Island in British Columbia, Canada.
DOC Technical support supervisor Andy Roberts said seven staff were ferried to the island from Invercargill on 26 June in five helicopters, to join 13 others who had been taken there by sea. One helicopter returned to the mainland, leaving three Jet Rangers to spread the bait and one Squirrel to ferry bait and fuel from storage at the old Metservice base.
"Without the skills of the team, particularly the pilots, we would not have been able to take advantage of the fine weather we encountered," said Mr Roberts. "Team members were determined to get the job completed as quickly as possible, and get back to their homes and families on the mainland."
Campbell Island will be checked for rats in a trapping-based monitoring operation in two years time, and only then would the Department know if the team had succeeded in eradicating the island's rats.
The Conservation Minister congratulated the DOC team and said their commitment and dedication show-cased to the world New Zealand's commitment to conservation.
"The eradication of rats will allow the return of some unique birds to their former island home, " Ms Lee said.
"Among them will be the rare Campbell Island teal, a flightless relative of the endangered New Zealand brown teal. A small population has been bred in captivity at the Mt Bruce Wildlife Centre for several years and attempts will be made to establish a new breeding colony on Whenua Hou as an interim measure.
"There are also plans to establish a population of Campbell Island snipe, a tiny member of the godwit family. This newly discovered bird was found on a tiny rock stack on the coast of Campbell Island in 1997," Ms Lee said.
"Although there are no reliable records it is possible other birds like kakariki and a small relative of the weka have also been wiped out by rats on Campbell Island. These birds thrive on similar, predator free, islands but rats were well established on Campbell Island before surveys of small birds were carried out."
Ms Lee said the rats probably got to the island from whaling and sealing ships during the early 1800s. She said the Campbell Island rat eradication project was part of a concerted drive to extend the number of offshore islands where some of the world's rarest bird species could continue their long trek back from the edge of extinction.
Ends

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