I have been fortunate to have had two recent meetings with the charming Sian Buley, Auckland Zoo’s Pest Control Co-ordinator.
Buley is an English trained biologist who has worked at Jersey Zoo and since coming to New Zealand, in animal and pest management. The Auckland Zoo job combines her field experience and zoo work.
Auckland is known to be one of the most progressive zoos, and one of the few with a full time pest management role. The team also recently employed a second staff member to enable their expertise to have an impact outside the fence, as part of their upcoming ‘Urban Ark’ project.
On my first zoo visit, I attended an evening meeting with local representatives of pest/ predator-free groups. I met Friends of Oakley Creek founder Wendy John, whose long-running project serves as an inspirational example of what can be achieved in urban restoration by passionate volunteers. Also present was Paul Whitfield who aspires to establish a Pest Free Pt Chevalier . Rachel Fanshawe, coordinator of the newly established Kingsland Eco-neighbourhood, part-funded by the Albert Eden Local Board, and Forest and Bird’s Central Auckland branch committee member, Natasha Hamilton, who has keen volunteers wanting to help with native plantings and weeding in the area.
The Kingsland group recently began focussing their efforts on humane backyard rat trapping, and when Rachel described her fear of the large DOC 200 traps, more experienced members of the group had suggestions to assist her. Regular trapping workshops are to be a prominent feature of the zoo’s support to community pest control efforts. This meeting was an eye opener for me, and confirmed that my floating the idea of developing an urban sanctuary was not as silly as some might think. It partly becomes a question of linking already existing groups together, and working together using each others strengths.
As I’ve said before, if Wellington can get co-ordination between local groups, providing safe corridors for native birds, and planting for protection and development of more sustainable ecosystems, so can we.
On my next visit, Sian took me around the Te Wao Nui precinct, dedicated to native species, and pointed out the hillside behind-about 6Ha of native bush. While we often visited the zoo as a family when my two boys were young, and then later with my two granddaughters, I had not visited for some years.
We do have an amazing zoo right at our back door, whose dedicated staff work hard to create realistic habitats for its animals, and protect native wildlife. The zoo’s pest management programme concentrates quite intensively on rats. They need to be controlled to very low levels due to predation and disease risk and competition for animal food. Plus, no visitors or locals want to visit their zoo and see rats running around.
However, there are challenges. The zoo is very attractive to rats, as there is plentiful food and shelter to be found, and constant incursions occur via the creek flowing through the grounds, the area’s honeycombed volcanic rock, and from surrounding parks and properties.
Paramount to the zoo’s pest control is avoiding risks to zoo animals, and ensuring methods are best practice, humane and discrete. The basic control comprises a network of 140 DOC 200 traps, 40 strategically placed A24 traps and targeted use of bait and Victor Pro snap-traps. Many different tools, alongside teamwork and good communication is vital to the integrated and holistic approach of the programme, and new technology and protocols are always incorporated where possible. Careful records are kept, and some 400 rats are killed annually with the help of staff and volunteers.
Some locals have told me it would be impossible to create an urban sanctuary anywhere near the zoo, because predator control would be so difficult. However, the fact that the zoo maintains low numbers of rats on site, and is already starting to help coordinate and support the work of some other groups in the central city, means that actually it has a keyrole to play in helping to achieve such an aspirational goal.
I maintain we can help considerably towards Predator-free NZ 2050, and while I readily acknowledge that urban sanctuaries are much more challenging than the Tiritiri one with which I am familiar, much can be done.
When, or if, the final decision is made to remove the Monterrey Pines next to the zoo, and replant a native forest, I hope a group of volunteers( I will be one), will take up the challenge and completely clear animal predators from the Western Springs area. Natives grow more quickly than many people realise. It would not take too many years to return a tummy tingling dawn chorus to our inner city environment.
As our new Prime Minister has said “Let’s do this.” (JOHN ELLIOTT)