New Zealanders who work to bring kiwis back to capital

Community groups in New Zealand Wellington aims to transform their metropolis at the port into the world's first predator-free capital, hoping to bring back the kiwi and other unique birds, lizards and insects.

Rightly called Predator Free Wellington, the non-profit organization has already exterminated nearly 30,000 rats, ermine, weasels and opossums from the greater Wellington area.

"It is believed that these three species eat 25 million native birds per year – that's about 68,000 birds a night," said James Wilkinson, Project Director at Predator Free Wellington. "They are literally chewing through our native biodiversity."

Wilkinson reached into a large plastic box and produced an original taxidermied ermine and placed it on the table – eyes wide and teeth bared – alongside a similar-but-smaller weasel, a rat and a flat, yet-to-be-filled possum.

At first sight it is difficult to imagine how these small animals can cause so much damage to the ecosystem of New Zealand. But as Wilkinson explained, the native flora and fauna of the country has evolved over the course of millions of years without other terrestrial animals than other bats, and as a result they are not equipped to fight even the smallest predators.

(James Wilkinson with staff from the Zealandia eco-reserve and a trap used to capture and kill predators)

"In that isolation New Zealand became a land of lizards and birds, and without having to escape somewhere, our birds became pretty lazy and lost their wings," he said.

The country houses the largest number of species of flying birds, both living and extinct, and its national animal, the kiwi, is one of the so-called "lazy" birds of Wilkinson.

About the size of a chicken, flightless and with terrible sight, the kiwi, more than a century absent in Wellington, is vulnerable to attacks from hermats, which were introduced in the late 19th century to control rabbit pests.

Stoats, weasels and ferrets are blamed for about half of all kiwi deaths. Cats, dogs, marsupials, wild boars and rats also pose a threat to the birds, just like cars & # 39; s.

Rats compete with kiwi for comparable food sources and eat bird eggs, like marsupials, which also strip the delicate leaves of native trees and affect the entire forest ecosystem.

"You introduce these guys and native animals really have no chance," Wilkinson said.

Each year New Zealand spends about NZ $ 70 million (US $ 45.6 million) in an effort to keep this pest under control, but their number inevitably returns.

"If we do not go for zero for this goal, we are doing what we have always done," Wilkinson said passionately.

Predator Free Wellington was launched in 2016 and supports 32 community groups working together to remove introduced species from the 30,000 hectares of land in the city of Wellington and the surrounding areas.

While New Zealand has a history of successfully eliminating non-natural carnivores from offshore islands, working in an urban environment offers many more challenges.

"We do things like monitoring our rainwater and wastewater networks to see if rats are using them, we're talking to supermarkets about how freight comes from outside the region, talking to companies to understand how they handle their waste, because that provides shelter and food for rats, "Wilkinson said.

Working in a city with about half a million people has one important advantage: more hands on deck.

Wilkinson said he was surprised by how positively the larger Wellington community reacted to the project, with school groups coming on board and people uploading photos of cakes without a predator to social media.

One of the main ways in which Predator Free Wellington supports community groups is to offer traps in the backyard – wooden, tunnel-like structures with a rat trap in the middle – so that residents can eliminate predators in their own garden.

(A trap, strewn with a chicken egg, within Zealandia's eco-reserve in Wellington)

According to Wilkinson, the backyard trapping movement went "massively" and became a point of community cohesion for thousands of locals.

"We have new refugee families arriving in a community and they are welcomed with a fall in a box, which is a direct link to what is happening in their community," said the former ranger of the nature watch.

"Wellingtonians have really gone up and said:" This is our city and we want to be part of it. "

The enthusiasm of residents to become the world's first predator-free capital was perhaps most clearly felt when a deceitful weasel found its way to Zealandia, a fully fenced, 225-acre eco-reserve, about 10 minutes from the central business district, at an early stage. October.

When news about the weasel broke out, local residents began to specifically visit the park to help find the intruder.

"I think it's a story that people really identify with," said Stephen Moorhouse, education and youth leader in Zealandia. "I think they have taken a bit of a personal view that something is trying to take away the animals and creatures with which they have a relationship here."

Almost two weeks later, the weasel was found dead in one of the 110 traps that were specially designed to trap the intruder, to the relief of the staff and the local population of Zealandia.

But Zealandia is more than a picturesque park for New Zealanders to get acquainted with the native flora and fauna. It also plays a key role in the goals of Predator Free Wellington to reintroduce native animals in the outskirts of the city.

Because the bird populations in Zealandia grow, species such as the teak – a medium-sized forest bird – are spilled in the surrounding urban environment.

"The one was one last remnant of a population of about 500 (birds), on an offshore island," Wilkinson explained.

"But now they are spreading from this place (Zealandia) to the suburbs around Wellington, so that our children see birds that you would otherwise have to see many kilometers off the coast to see to connect."

Although only two years after their 10-year project, the success of other predator-eradication programs in the region, the Predator Free Wellington team is confident that they will again be kiwis in the outskirts of the city will see wandering around.

"Native biodiversity reacts incredibly fast, much faster than we would appreciate," Wilkinson said.

"We have decimated our indigenous biodiversity in a very short time, so this offers a unique opportunity to change the tide and transfer an environment to the next generation that has not been half a rubbish for the first time in a long time."

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