Wildlife researcher honoured for career in combatting pests
Landcare Research scientist John Parkes has been honoured for his work in the advancement of knowledge on how to manage
introduced pest animals such as feral pigs and goats, Himalayan thar, deer, hares, rabbits and rodents. His work has
created notable benefits both within New Zealand and overseas.
John has been awarded the Graeme Caughley Medal, established in 2003 by the Australasian Wildlife Management Society to
commemorate the life of well-known wildlife biologist Graeme Caughley. It is awarded occasionally, to individuals who
have made outstanding contributions to wildlife management, which includes translating science into practical actions
and for use at management and policy level.
In his 30+ years as a scientist, John has published more than 200 key papers and reports. The award citation notes his
keen analytical and strategic abilities and commonsense practical approach, and that his skills are sought after in New
Zealand and Australia and, increasingly, internationally.
John’s career began in 1975 with a focus on controlling large mammals such as deer and studying their effects on
conservation assets. He emphasised the need for ongoing monitoring and its value in tactical decision making around pest
control – a practice that is now standard. John was also a key contributor to the Department of Conservation’s first
national pest control plans for feral goats, thar and possums during the 1990s.
In the past 5 years he has increasingly focused on pest eradication from offshore islands. There has been a global
upsurge of interest in the role this can play in protecting vulnerable species.
John’s first involvement with eradicating pests on islands was with the former Forest Service’s successful eradication
of feral goats from Raoul Island in the 1980s. At this time this was the largest island from which goats had been
removed. The lessons learned on Raoul have been used in many subsequent successes, including Australia’s Lord Howe
Island and on very large islands in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. John worked in the planning stages in both these
He has also worked with colleagues in planning or monitoring eradication of feral pigs on Santa Cruz Island
(California), rabbits on Clarion Island (Mexico), rodents on Lord Howe Island, myna birds on Mangaia Island (Cook
Islands), and foxes on Wilson’s Promontory (not strictly an island, but a peninsula on the southernmost tip of the
John also researched the epidemiology of rabbit haemorrhagic disease following its introduction to New Zealand in 1997.
His work went beyond looking at rabbits as vectors for the disease. Along with his co-workers, he studied the effects of
the sharp decline in rabbit densities on the environment. The work was a graphic example of how single-pest-species
control can have unforeseen and often unfavourable responses that may benefit other introduced pest species. This area
of research now plays a strong role in pest ecology in New Zealand, and has an increasing profile in Australia.
John says he feels very honoured to have received the award, and to have gained the recognition of his peers.
Over the course of his career so far John has received many other honours, including a bronze medal from the Royal
Society of New Zealand (2003), the Australasian Wildlife Management Society’s Graeme Caughley Fellowship (2002) and an
Honorary Life Membership from the New Zealand Ecological Society (1997).