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Why New Zealand spent a small fortune to kill one stoat

Department of Conservation, New Zealand

Surveillance cameras have captured the invasive stoat on New Zealand’s Chalky Island bio-sanctuary.


For the past quarter of a century, a remote corner of southwest New Zealand has provided a predator-free sanctuary for endangered species, including the world’s only flightless parrot and a lizard that is never found nowhere else on Earth.

Chalky Island, a rugged but lush 2-square-mile outcrop in the Pacific nation’s Fiordland, is home to the endemic Te Kākahu skink, the iconic little spotted kiwi, and the kākāpō, the only parrot that cannot fly and whose less There are an estimated 250 left in the wild.

So in August 2022, when island conservation officers identified a single male stoat, a weasel-like mammal native to Eurasia and North America that preys on a variety of animals and d he birds, they knew they had to act to save its delicate ecosystem – even if it cost a small fortune.

The country’s Department of Conservation (DOC) has launched a massive biosecurity response involving trapping experts, dogs, surveillance cameras, helicopters and boats. It took eight months to finally trap and kill the mustelids, which one official called a big victory.

“This is a huge victory, but we can’t let up now,” Rebecca Teele, DOC’s incident manager, said in a press release hailing the stoat’s capture last April. “This is one of the highest priority sites for biodiversity in Fiordland and it is crucial that we do all we can to protect the vulnerable species that live there.”

Last month, an annual report released by the New Zealand Parliament’s Environment Select Committee revealed the price tag of the mission to catch the stoat: nearly half a million New Zealand dollars (about 300,000 dollars).

The character has raised eyebrows on social media, with one user on X saying: “I’m all for protecting endangered animals, but damn. »

Meanwhile, right-wing pressure group the New Zealand Taxpayers Union asked: “What did they use to kill him: missiles?”

But officials defended the cost.

“Inaction would have been more costly – with a potentially devastating impact on our kākāpō population,” said Aaron Fleming, DOC’s southern South Island operations manager.

“We would have had to fly the kākāpō off the island at great expense. And we have nowhere to put them. The opportunity cost of not catching the ermine would have been millions.

Liu Yang/iStockphoto/Getty Images

The critically endangered kākāpō is one of New Zealand’s unique treasures.

Along with other mustelids, weasels and ferrets, stoats were introduced to New Zealand in the late 19th century to control rabbits destroying sheep pastures – but they had a devastating impact on the unique avifauna of the country, according to the DOC, involved in the extinction of several species. subspecies.

Introduced predators kill around 25 million native birds in New Zealand each year, with around 4,000 native species threatened or at risk of extinction, according to the DOC.

In an effort to protect them, New Zealand has spent more than $300 million since 2016 to pursue its goal of a predator-free country by 2050, CNN affiliate RNZ reported last month.

As part of the program, the government plans to eradicate rats, opossums (a marsupial native to the Americas), weasels, ferrets and the pesky stoat.

“(The stoat) is a small, energetic and very effective killer of native bush birds and lizards,” said Carolyn M. King, an emeritus professor at the University of Waikato, who has written about stoats and the threat that they represent for coastal sanctuaries.

“They are small enough to get into the burrows of rabbits and rats, or even the dome-shaped nests of small birds, and twisty enough to twist around inside.”

Stephan Morris Photography/Alamy

Stoats, along with their mustelid compatriots, weasels and ferrets, are on New Zealand’s wanted species list.

They are also good swimmers.

King said a study of a small group of stoats found almost half of them swam non-stop “for more than an hour”, implying a “continuous risk of visits or periodic invasions of ermines” on islands located within a radius of 3 to 5 kilometers. from the continental coast.

This includes Chalky Island.

“It’s possible he swam to the island or hitchhiked on driftwood,” DOC’s Fleming said of the now-infamous intruder.

According to the DOC, Chalky Island and the neighboring Passage Islands have been predator-free since 1999, following the first ever stoat eradication campaign.

And for Fleming, the recent ermine incursion only highlights the importance of the Predator Free 2050 plan.

“If we completely eradicate stoats from Aotearoa (New Zealand), we remove the costs of incursions and our wildlife can thrive alongside us,” he said.

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jack colman

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