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Dogged determination delivers pest-free islands

10 December 2019

Dogged determination delivers pest-free islands

10 December 2019

A squadron of Conservation Dogs descended on the Bay of Islands last week.

Nineteen highly-trained canines and their handlers swept across the seven islands of Ipipiri (Eastern Bay of Islands) which comprise Project Island Song, an ambitious partnership now celebrating a full decade of pest-free status.

Rats, mice, feral cats, stoats, weasels, ferrets and even introduced skinks were the target for the army of super-sensitive snouts whose job was to make sure the pest-free islands are in fact pest free.

Veteran pest-detection dog handler Fin Buchanan said ultimately no intruders were found and the islands were able to be given a clean bill of health.

Buchanan, who is the Pest Detection Dogs Senior Advisor for the Conservation Dog Programme (CDP) run by the Department of Conservation (DOC), said the team approach is both very efficient and provides a great opportunity for developing the professional skills of the handler/dog teams.

Five years ago, it simply wouldn’t have been possible – pest audits would have been for individual pest species with just a single dog and handler sweeping an island at a time.

“In those days, a rodent dog could have told us there’s no rats on the island but have left a stoat undetected and feasting on native birds for maybe months until a mustelid detection dog made its visit.”

The big change came when Kiwibank became the national partner to the Conservation Dog Programme three years ago.

Buchanan said with Kiwibank on board, there’s been a real push to raise the game for both pest detection and threatened species detection.

The programme now has a full-time manager, two senior advisors and four full-time handler teams within DOC, an in-schools education programme and the ability to bring people and dogs together for on-the-job learning opportunities such as the Bay of Islands assignment.

“Five years ago, we were a loose-knit band of passionate and highly-skilled dog handlers offering conservation services where and when we could.

“Today’s CDP service encompasses 74 DOC and contract handlers with 91 dogs spread across the country and being deployed to maximise efficiency and effectiveness.”

Buchanan adds that Kiwibank’s national partnership with the programme couldn’t have come at a better time as enthusiasm and effort builds to make New Zealand Predator Free by 2050.

“If we are to get there, we will need more resources and to be smarter and leaps forward like the CDP has made will have to happen across all areas of conservation.

“We are really fortunate to have found a like-minded partner in Kiwibank who have stood alongside us for the past three-years and are signed up to be there for at least another three.”

Kiwibank has been the national partner of the Conservation Dogs Programme for several years and is immensely proud to see how the CDP has grown.

Kiwibank Chief Marketing Officer Simon Hofmann says, “When we partnered with DOC in 2016, Predator Free 2050 had just been announced. Since then, we’ve seen the programme go from strength to strength. Exercises like this are critical, as they allow our threatened species the chance to thrive.

“Kiwibank is ambitious for New Zealand, and we believe that by supporting these world class handler teams, we’ll help ensure that these native species that are so integral to our national identity will be here for future generations to treasure.”

With demand for conservation dog services likely to increase as the fight against predators intensifies, operations like the Bay of Islands one will be even more valuable for honing the skills of this elite squad as 2050 approaches.


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