New Zealand’s government has announced an ambitious plan to make the whole country free of pests like rats, stoats and weasels by 2050. Meanwhile grassroots community eradication groups are taking matters into their own hands.
“Trapping” is fast becoming a cool activity in Wellington, and it’s not just the grey-haired, sandal-wearing conservation fringe setting elaborate traps in their backyards – it’s hipsters, families, retirees and everyone in between.
New Zealand’s capital city is famous for its filmmakers, its fierce wind and its creative arts and culture, but recently, many discussions over a flat white or a hoppy craft beer have not been about movies and art, but about how to kill rats, stoats and weasels.
The aim is clear: to make New Zealand’s capital the world’s first predator-free city so that the country’s unique birds can thrive once more.
Rats, stoats and weasels – which were all introduced to New Zealand by humans – kill about 25 million native birds in the country each year.
Until humans arrived about 1,250 years ago, there were no mammals, aside from some bats, in the Pacific island nation. Now, 80% of native bird species are in trouble and many are at risk of extinction.
“We’ve got tradesmen and we’ve got accountants. We’ve got work-from-home mums and stay-at-home dads. We’ve got GPs and refugees, ” says Dan Henry from community group Predator Free Miramar.
A recent survey by Wellington City Council showed that two-thirds of Wellingtonians are either involved in predator-free work or keen to be involved.
Dozens of community trapping groups have popped up in almost every Wellington suburb, holding regular meetings to build and set traps.
“Eradicating every rat, stoat and weasel in an urban area has never been tried before, ” says Henry.
Henry and his team started giving out free numbered traps two years ago, and soon the competition was on. Enthusiastic messages on the group’s Facebook page such as “Another catch for old faithful 702!” or “Chalk up another one for 376!” soon started to appear – along with photos of dead rats.
Predator-catching can involve the whole family. As the project nears completion, Henry says his wife Jess is breathing a sigh of relief as he will finally stop storing “sample rats and weasels” in her freezer.
“Our eradication operation is the biggest urban eradication in New Zealand and probably one of the most complex in the world, ” says Kylie Reeves from Predator Free Miramar.
“We are now working in uncharted territory. We’re dealing with individual clever rats that have evaded our traps to date.” – dpa