Introduction

Mitre 10 is helping to suppress the plague of stoats threatening the last wild population of takahē in the Murchison Mountains of Fiordland and that’s just the beginning.

Date:  13 September 2012

Mitre 10 is helping to suppress the plague of stoats threatening the last wild population of takahē in the Murchison Mountains of Fiordland and that’s just the beginning.

‘This is a real case of ‘Big is good!’ says Martin Dippie, Mitre 10 Chairman. ‘The bigger the effort to trap stoats, the better off the takahē will be.’

Neil Hodges, Mitre 10 store owner, takes a stoat trap into the Murchison Mountains. Photo: Barry Harcourt.
Neil Hodges, Mitre 10 store owner, takes a stoat trap into the Murchison Mountains

On Wednesday, with trapping tunnels strapped to his pack, Mr Dippie joined the Department of Conservation (DOC) Takahē Recovery team pushing through fresh snow in the Murchison Mountains to intensify the defensive cordon protecting takahē from stoats.

The efforts of Mr Dippie and DOC staff will increase the number of traps from just over 3000 to almost 4000 traps in the 50,000 hectare Murchison Mountains.

A dramatic increase in stoat numbers has occurred this year because the rat population irrupted after a bumper seed fall in the beech forests. Stoats thrive on rats. When rat numbers drop in late winter, stoats start looking for alternative prey and takahē become potential targets.

‘We’ve reached a critical time for takahē in the Murchison Mountains’ says Mr Dippie. ‘Rat numbers are dropping and we need to nail the stoats before they start looking to takahē as a meal option. The last major stoat plague in 2007 saw the takahē population plummet where there was no protection.’

The partnership between Mitre10 and the Department of Conservation’s Takahē Recovery Programme, ‘Mitre10 Takahē Rescue', is stepping up a notch following the renewal of the partnership for a further three year term.

‘Takahē are on the brink of extinction yet many people aren’t aware of the seriousness of their plight,’ said Mr Dippie. ‘Through our partnership we hope to help raise awareness of the risk akahē face and encourage New Zealander’s to join us to support their rescue.’

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Neil Hodges from Mitre 10 Te Anau, Martin Genet from DOC and Martin Dippie, the Mitre 10 Chairman, setting stoat traps in the Murchison Mountains. Photo: Barry Harcourt.
Neil Hodges from Mitre 10 Te Anau, Martin Genet from DOC and Martin Dippie, the Mitre 10 Chairman, setting stoat traps in the Murchison Mountains

Background information

The Murchison Mountains of Fiordland are home to the only truly wild population of the endangered takahē Porphyrio hochstetteri, a large flightless bird found only in New Zealand. With only 260 takahē left in the world the birds are listed in the Department of Conservation’s highest threat category - “Nationally Critical”, which is only one step away from extinction.

Rat capture rates in the Murchison Mountains this winter are the highest on record and increasing rates until late June suggest rats were still breeding and increasing through the early winter. At their peak in late June, rat catches were four times the previously recorded maximums.

Rat populations drive stoat populations. Stoats will switch prey if their preferred diet of rats is unavailable. This puts takahē in the wild at risk.

The Department of Conservation has responded to the current stoat plague event in the Murchison Mountains through increasing the frequency of trap checks and increasing the number of traps in areas with high takahē numbers.

DOC has increased the number of takahē carrying transmitters in the Murchison Mountains to 57 birds. The transmitters can be read by an aircraft (Sky Ranger) flying over the mountains to monitor these takahē. So far none of the monitored takahē has been killed by stoats.

Mitre 10 Takahē Rescue has contributed over half a million dollars to the partnership with DOC since 2005. Mitre 10 believes it is important to give back to the families that have supported it for decades as well as the future generations of New Zealanders so they have now re-committed for a further three year term.

Conservation with business and communities is becoming more commonplace for DOC as it seeks new ways to address threats to natural heritage. A review of the Government’s Biodiversity Strategy in 2005 identified the need for increased effort to retain natural values and for DOC to work with all New Zealanders allows greater success in conservation projects.

Contact

Herb Christophers, Senior Media Advisor
+64 4 471 3188 or +64 27 227 2997

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