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Stoat Invasion - Major Blow for NZ Wildlife

Southern Office
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Media release for immediate use - 14 January 2000

Stoat Invasion - Major Blow for NZ Wildlife

The recent finding of stoat footprints on Stewart Island is a major blow for New Zealand wildlife, according to the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society.

The Department of Conservation reported finding stoat footprints on Long Harry Beach in December. These unwelcome signs help substantiate numerous anecdotal reports of stoat sightings over several years. Stewart Island suffers from rats and wild cats but until now it has been thought to be free of stoats which are New Zealand's worst wildlife predator.

Forest and Bird's Southern Conservation Officer, Sue Maturin, believes that stoats could eventually spell disaster for Stewart Island kiwi and New Zealand dotterels.

"On mainland New Zealand about 95% of kiwi chicks are killed by stoats each year and the kiwi population is halving every decade."

"We've not had to worry about kiwis on Stewart Island as, in the absence of stoats, their population has remained pretty stable. However, once stoat numbers build up they could decimate the kiwi population," she said. The presence of stoats on Stewart Island is a double tragedy because there are also many offshore islands which are within swimming distance of stoats from Stewart Island.

"Even Whenua Hou (Codfish Island) is potentially in danger. The Department of Conservation has put years of work and hundreds of thousands of dollars into ridding the island of all introduced predators to make it a potential refuge for some of our most endangered wildlife. All this will be to no avail if stoats get to Whenua Hou."

No one knows for sure how stoats could have got to Stewart Island. According to Sue Maturin it is highly likely that someone has deliberately introduced them.

"Stoats can swim up to 1.5km but there are no sources of stoats within 1.5km of Stewart Island. There is a remote possibility that they could have rafted here on logs from the mainland, or arrived as stowaways on a boat. But stoats are very unlikely to voluntarily jump aboard a boat. A deliberate introduction would be ecological terrorism at its worst," Sue Maturin said.

"The introduction of stoats to Stewart Island is a terrible tragedy and we have lost one of our most precious wildlife havens. Stoats are notoriously difficult to control. They can be reduced over relatively small areas by intensive trapping and poisoning, but so far we have no way of being able to control them over large areas, and the possibility of being able to eradicate them is something we can only dream about at the moment."

"With intensive trapping DoC may be able to protect the New Zealand dotterels and some, but not all, of the Stewart Island kiwi but this will impose an extra cost on the already cash strapped Department," Sue Maturin said.

ENDS

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