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Rat Eradication On Little Barrier Returns Tuatara

23 January 2004

Media Statement

Rat eradication on Little Barrier to return tuatara

Little Barrier Island (Hauturu), one of the most important sites for primeval biodiversity in the country, is to be cleared of rats this year allowing captive tuatara to return to their natural home.

Conservation Minister Chris Carter announced today that all necessary resource consents have been obtained and objecting parties, Ngati Wai and Friends of the Earth, have now agreed to support an operation to eradicate Pacific rats (kiore) from the 2817 ha island in July.

"This is exciting news. A rat eradication programme will be a very significant step in the on going development of Hauturu as one of New Zealand's premier nature reserves," Mr Carter said.

"It will mean that the ancient tuatara, a species that has been essentially evicted from Hauturu by kiore, can reclaim its natural home."

"It is estimated that there may have been more than 300,000 tuatara on Hauturu once but the arrival of kiore, which eat the eggs and young of the reptile, pushed that population to the brink," Mr Carter said.

Tuatara were actually thought to be extinct on Hauturu until a small number were rediscovered in the 1990s. Since then, tuatara have been held in captivity on the island to maintain the population. Successful breeding has lifted the numbers in captivity to over 100. These will be released as soon as the island is declared rat free, about two years after the bait drop.

Victoria University professor and tuatara expert Charles Daugherty, who was part of the team that captured some of the last tuatara on Little Barrier in the early 1990's, said everything boded well for tuatara recovery on the island.

"Once the rats are gone insect life will return quickly, and then lizards and tuatara will also bounce back. The young tuatara won't begin to breed for another six or seven years, but once this happens, the population will be away.

Other species that will benefit from eradicating rats, the last remaining introduced predator on the island, include geckos and skinks, giant weta (wetapunga), Cook's petrel (titi) and the native wood rose (pua o te reinga).

Plans to eradicate rats from Hauturu were delayed last year due to objections by Ngati Wai, who regard kiore as taonga, and Friends of the Earth.

"I am delighted to see that DOC and local iwi and environmental groups have now worked through these issues. It is an example of constructive dialogue, " Mr Carter said.

Local Maori will have the opportunity to remove some kiore from the island before the eradication programme starts and keep them in captivity if they wish.

Protected in 1895, Little Barrier is a piece of 'primeval' New Zealand, with diverse forest types undisturbed by browsing mammals. It has the largest range of native birds, reptiles and land snails of any island in the country, and is home to the last natural population of stitchbird(hihi) and wetapunga.

ENDS

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