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Little Barrier Rat Removal Underway


Little Barrier Rat Removal Underway

An operation to rid one of New Zealand's premiere island nature reserves of rats is now underway.

Department of Conservation conservator Rob McCallum said that after six years of planning it was exciting to at last be removing kiore (Pacific rats) - the last introduced animal pest - from Hauturu (Little Barrier).

"Hauturu is one of New Zealand's most precious places. Getting rid of kiore will remove a key threat to native species on the island and will transform the forest ecosystem.

"This operation is hugely important for safeguarding a part of our biodiversity that has been lost from most other places."

Three helicopters spread rat bait over the 3083-hectare island in what is one of the largest island rat eradications undertaken by the Department of Conservation (DOC). The operation will be completed following a second aerial drop, which will take place when conditions allow.

Mr McCallum said that the first bait drop was on target to finish today. "We're confident that with our experience of island pest eradications and the detailed planning that has gone into this operation, it will become a major success story for conservation in New Zealand."

Mr McCallum thanked all those who had supported the project, including the Little Barrier Supporters Trust, Victoria University, Ngati Manuhiri, Ngati Rehua and the NZ Navy, which assisted DOC with GPS equipment needed to keep the precision guidance systems on line for the helicopters.

In the last three years DOC has removed rodents on islands as diverse as sub-antartic Campbell Island and sub-tropical Raoul Island in the Kermadecs. Campbell Island was declared rat free last year, while Raoul is currently being monitored two years after the combined rat and cat operation there.

Removing kiore from Hauturu will make the long-term survival of threatened species such as Cook's petrel, giant weta, and Duvaucel's gecko more certain. It will also mean that a hundred tuatara, currently kept safe from kiore in an enclosure, can be released to repopulate the island.

Once kiore are gone, it is expected that natural processes will restore a self sustaining diverse forest ecosystem with large numbers of burrowing seabirds, tuatara, lizards and insects.

It will be two years before the success of the operation can be determined, when intensive monitoring will be carried out to check for rats on the rugged island.

The $700,000 pest eradication project is largely funded under the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy.

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