Episode 20: Culture and conservation with Aroha Gilling
In this episode we’re talking about how our conservation past intersects with both our present and our future, and how our treaty commitments need to be at the heart of this.
Aroha Gilling is an academic specialising in Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and an experienced Treaty Ranger. She’s passionate about education, and this episode contains a wealth of expertise about nature and being a good Treaty Partner. Aroha is also a superfan of all creatures great and small in the Rangitahi Molesworth Recreation Reserve. It’s her happy place.
- The birdsong in this episode is a dawn chorus.
- The music used is 'Let’s Get Down to Business' by Cast of Characters.
For further reading, learn about our responsibility to give effect to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi under section 4 of the Conservation Act.
Transcript for episode 20
Every episode we talk about work being done behind the scenes by DOC’s technical experts, scientists, rangers and the experts in between. Kia ora! Ko Erica Wilkinson tēnei. He kōnae ipurangi tēnei, e pā ana ki ngā Sounds of Science. Today we're taking a big picture view of conservation with Mahi Oranga Senior Analyst Aroha Gilling. Kia ora Aroha!
Kia ora Erica!
Aroha is an academic and experienced Treaty Ranger. Her and her team provide crucial guidance and education for Department of Conservation, Te Papa Atawhai to help us be a good treaty partner. She's also a mega fan of all creatures, big and small, in the Rangitahi Molesworth Recreation Reserve. We are so fortunate to have Aroha here on the show today to share some of her knowledge and her kōrero.
Do you want to introduce yourself to our listeners?
Kia ora. Ngā mihi kia koutou katoa. He uri ahau ō Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, Whakatōhea me Ngāi Tahu hoki. Ko Aroha Gilling taku ingoa.
Kia ora, I’m Aroha and I’m a descendant of Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, Whakatōhea me Ngāi Tahu hoki.
Welcome. It’s wonderful to have you here. So first up, would you tell me a bit about your role at DOC Te Papa Atawhai?
Well, currently I've got two roles. So I'm seconded at the moment to the Mahi Oranga treaty team, which is a nationally based team, and we're working on making the treaty settlements visible. So the same way that biodiversity work, heritage work is recorded in a big database and generates tasks well, eventually treaty work will work the same way.
But then I also have another role and my day-to-day role is the Treaty Settlement Ranger, the Senior Treaty Settlement Ranger for Te Tau Ihu, or the Northern South Island.
Brilliant. What does a treaty ranger do?
Everything, absolutely everything! Um, I like to think about my job as kind of 360 degrees. So if you start at one point of the circle and look outwards I'm responsible for working with our own staff to help them develop skills and expand on the skills they already have to work well with our treaty partner with iwi, hapū and whānau. Turn a wee bit further around the circle and I'm responsible for seeing that DOC is meeting our treaty obligations as stated in the Settlement Act.
Keep going and I work alongside iwi often in a support role for one of the other key Māori roles within Te Papa Atawhai DOC. And then you keep going again and I work out in the community helping our community partners learn about working with iwi, hapū and whānau.
Wow. That must be an incredibly varied and rewarding role to be doing.
It's incredibly exciting. It's very challenging. And sometimes I put my head in my hands and wonder what on earth I've got myself into.
I’m sure you're doing a wonderful job. So what's unique about the responsibility for us Te Papa Atawhai with regards to the treaty? Can you talk me through that?
Sure. It's all rooted in having one of the most, well, one of the strongest treaty statements in an act. So the Act that governs the mahi or the work that we do is the Conservation Act 1987. And section four of the Conservation Act says this act shall so be interpreted and administered as to give effect to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.
So the real crunch in that sentence is the ‘shall’. It means we have to do it. We have to find a way to bring the treaty to life. And the principles of the treaty to life in the work that we do.
Wow, that's fascinating. And the give effect line, is that important as well?
It is. Give effect--I like to think of as making the treaty principles come to life, put them into operation, make them real, make them meaningful.
So sometimes there's a perception that science, conservation and Mātauranga Māori are worlds apart or that they can't align. But there are plenty of experts saying that that's not the case. Is that an attitude that you encounter in your work?
It's certainly something I'm aware of and I've been following very closely a lot of the discussions around this, because to me, an integrated approach to conservation means Western science and Mātauranga Māori. Not one subservient to the other, both working in partnership. And I look to people like Rereata Makiha and Rangi Matamua and I look at bodies of knowledge that they are retelling and reintroducing generations to.
And that knowledge has been built up over centuries of close observation of the natural environment and not only close observation but observations for survival and for flourishing. So there is just so much that can be learned from that kind of close observation and learning over hundreds and hundreds of years that can't be dismissed. I think that Mātauranga should never be regarded as an add on or a body of knowledge to be co-opted or distilled by Western science.
I would like to see Western science learn to respect Mātauranga and its practitioners, and learn how to work alongside these people …. because I think that my ancestors, my tīpuna weren’t fools, they knew how to live and prosper in the natural environment.
Before your work as the Senior Treaty Settlements Ranger, you spent a lot of time in training and education. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Sure. I've spent about two decades working in tertiary education, primarily as a treaty educator, and I've worked across a number of disciplines. But the main focus of my mahi was in social work and health and wellbeing providers. So two decades of that has helped me refine my craft and I started out as a very raw presenter and slowly built up a base of skills and knowledge that's eventually brought me to Te Papa Atawhai and to the roles that I have today.
And in the education space, I've heard that you run into something called Tikanga bloopers. Is that something that happens a lot?
I think it is. I think it's really common. Tikanga bloopers, the term, was coined by a colleague of mine, and it's a way of explaining those common mistakes that we all make when we're interacting cross-culturally. But the next step is what do we do with it after we've made the mistake? And that's kind of the body of knowledge around Tikanga bloopers.
We're all going to make mistakes. I've made some stellar ones. In fact, I've got a photo to memorialize one of the ones that I made with myself and the then… he was Attorney-General and I think he was the Minister of Finance and possibly Minister of Treaty Settlements, let’s throw that all in, Michael Cullen and the blooper is in fact the photo.
I had my then husband with me at Maraenui on the East Coast during the seabed and foreshore meetings with the Crown. So Parekura Horomia and Michael Cullen came around to speak to iwi and hapū across the country. And I hadn't thought to, you know, explain the tikanga of a pōwhiri or the welcoming ceremony to my husband or to talk him through what was expected of him.
I just sort of thought, well let's be frank, I was overwhelmed and I just sort of hoped that we'd get through it. And halfway through the pōwhiri, so as they’re coming up the hongi and harirū line to shake hands and mihi to each other, as Michael Cullen drew near to me. My husband darted out of the line and took out a camera and took a photo of the whole event. And the look of horror – I still remember the look of horror on my mother's face to this day.
But that's a tikanga blooper. And I guess the important thing about understanding them is that often our staff will experience things like that, and there's no malice intended, but the embarrassment of the event can often induce paralysis so people get too frightened to do anything. And part of the education I do and help to contribute to across the educational packages that we deliver is learning how to get past that.
Use what you learned and move on. So, yeah, and I've had to do a fair amount of it myself.
That's so important. I feel like you need to be able to fail in order to progress. Right? You need to not make a scared of that.
So what does a typical day look like for you now? It sounds like there are no typical days, but give us an example.
Well, as I'm still seconded to Mahi Oranga treaty, a lot of what I'm doing is meetings and training. But a typical day as a treaty ranger is something quite different. You can never tell what's going to happen. So it might be something like going on a trip to support our Kuia and Kaumatua as they travel across the rohe or the region that we live in.
It might be helping out in an emergency response, supporting the iwi participation in the emergency response. But I think the thing that really stands out for me are those beautiful moments that just catch you by surprise and it's things like watching the face of the Kuia and the Kaumatua as they get to go somewhere that they haven't been for a long time like Onetahua Farewell Spit.
Or where you're able to help them go and see somewhere spectacular like Rangitoto or D’Urville Island. So those all require, you know, sort of DOC support to get there, whether that's in four wheel drives, whether it's a long trip along the Farewell Spit in Golden Bay. And we can do that for them.
We've got the resources and the staff and we're able to take them there to see these things and be part of the whenua and connect with it.
You’re a highly regarded treaty academic and DOC benefits hugely from your expertise. How did you get into this field of work?
I think I can track it back to when I was about 12, and I think that was when we first interacted with the social studies curriculum. I've probably just dated myself with that statement. And we had an introduction to the Treaty of Waitangi and it wasn't a good introduction. Even at 12 I was absolutely certain there must be more to the story.
So I remember going to the library and getting out about six books that all mentioned the treaty, and they were appalling. At 12 I could tell they were appalling. But I think that's kind of where it started. And it persisted. It's persisted my entire life, to be honest. And I still remember the excitement when Claudia Orange first published her book which was a published form of her doctoral thesis, and it was really exciting.
For the first time, there was really good quality information from a really credible author. And the other one that I really loved that I remember from, I think oh I can't even date that one, some time in the eighties maybe? Was Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou [Struggle Without End] by Ranginui Walker. So really exciting to get those kinds of books. One from a Māori author, one from a pākehā author that helped to build that picture of what I'd sensed as a 12 year old.
That there was far more to the story than we were being told. So that's kind of how I started. I cut my teeth on workshops in the nineties which wasn't easy, and some of them were horrific. I still remember some of them today, but each time I did a tough one or a good one, I learned something and slowly I've built up this kete of knowledge about delivering this kind of education.
That's pretty incredible. And Claudia Orange, I think won the Prime Minister's Literary Achievement Award last year. So I just love that it's still, she’s still being recognized for that non-fiction work. And what do you like most about your work? Is there something you can pinpoint?
Well it was those moments of wonders – of wonder, sorry. That's kind of all I can think of to call them. I'll give you some illustrations of what I meant by that. I think of sitting in the hot pools at Awakeri just outside of Whakatāne, with a group of our staff listening to one of the local iwi narrate their kōrero about stars, and you're looking up through the steam rising off the hot pools at the stars right there in the sky.
Another one from the same trip was sitting on the spine of Moutohorā or Whale Island actually watching whales transit by and listening to Te Kei Merito talking.
Other examples, listening to Uncle Joe Harawira teaching our staff about the Māori perspective on the beginning of human life on a hot summer day on Otamahua or Quail Island in Whakaraupō, Littleton Harbour.
So, you know, it's that magic of connecting with the natural environment, but connecting with it through that māori lens. I think that's the highlight of my job.
You make it sound so magical like that. And Joe Harawira is such a superstar, isn't he?
Yeah, he's great.
One of my favourite conservation questions to ask is what is a species that you really love.
Oh one species, I couldn't possibly pick one [Erica]! Well let's see. Actually my story about the species that I really care about or two of them anyway starts back at Onetahua marae in Golden Bay. So there's the whare there Te Ao Marama, the house was – the decoration of it was overseen by Robyn Slow who is a wonderful local artist and part of the marae whanau. And some of the images that he depicted there really got me curious.
So one of the images that occurs in some of the panels are something known as the Clifton Spiders. Now basically it's an albino spider that's blind and the size of a dinner plate. I've always wanted to see one. I really have. I've spent a lot of time clambering around looking for them, and I've only ever seen their spider webs.
So they have to go on my list. And another one that I saw for the first time illustrated on the walls of Te Ao Marama was the Powelliphanta snail. Now I have actually seen them, and I just think in they’re most beautiful things with those burnished brown shells. And I have to admit that I quite like the notion that they're carnivorous and that they eat worms by sucking them up a bit like we eat pasta.
Have you seen that clip of one doing it?
Yeah I have. I sent it to friends all over the world.
Look what we've got.
Of course I've got a bird on my list as well.
It’s the tarapirohe or the black-fronted tern. And I got to know them on Rangitahi Molesworth, or the Molesworth Recreation Reserve. And I think what appeals to me most about them is – it's actually the way they look, it's a very shallow reason. But they've got these little black skullcaps that remind me of World War One flying cats and so that’s how I use – that's the kind of marker I use to identify them.
So they’re the one bird that I'm absolutely, definitely sure I've got right. So I look for the little grey feathers and the little black skullcap.
Easy to find, surely. And aren't they the ones that dive bomb you when you get too close to their nest? So it's so it's so apt for their little skullcap.
Yeah, they do. Yeah. And they're struggling. They're under serious threat. But my colleagues from South Marlborough have been working alongside International Wildlife Management to enhance their habitat and give them a fighting chance.
Oh, fantastic. And I feel like there's really a theme with your favourite species, perhaps. So seeing as you've spent a lot of time there, what's your favourite memory of being in the Rangitahi Molesworth Recreation Reserve?
Yes, it is a place I'm incredibly fond of. My – one of my colleagues in Nelson, after I first went there, looked at me and said “Oh look, you're falling in love.” And he was absolutely right. I have most definitely fallen in love with Rangitahi Molesworth. Actually a favourite memory was a Christmas time memory from this year.
And it's just one of those – once again, it's one of those moments of wonder. I was just driving back from doing something up at Sedgemere, which is one part of the reserve, and we came across these three men halfway up a scree slope and they had a camera and I thought, oh, I bet that's interesting. Let’s stop and find out.
So we pulled up and wound the window down and called one over, he looked slightly panicked. And I was like “you look like you're doing something interesting there. What's going on?” And what they were doing was that they were photographing something called a pen wiper. And a pen wiper is this amazing, fleshy kind of – I think they call it a fleshy herb.
It looks like it should be part of the succulent family, but it's not really. It's one of those incredible plants that you only get to see every two to three years. It lives on scree slopes. And the botanists, I think, call it a transient plant because it's not always in the same place. They take quite a long time to mature, which could be the reason you only see them every two or three years.
And they have a really distinctive, highly fragrant flower. But the best bit is why they're called a pen wiper. So they were named after the strange contraptions that Victorian England made to wipe their quill pens on, which was essentially a bunch of rags tied around a stick. So if you can imagine a big bunch of rags wound around a stick, then you've got the basic shape of a pen wiper.
You've done a lot of work over the years delivering Te Pukenga Atawhai, the Māori induction course. Can you tell us a bit about what this is and your role there?
Sure. This is the wonderful course that was started, oh, must have been in the eighties when they first designed it and that was people like Te Kei Merito and Joe Harawira, involved in that. Dave Para I think was on board at that point.
And so they came up with this notion that in order to support our staff to interact more respectfully with iwi, hapū and whānau, that we needed to be providing a consistent education program. So they went out and developed this training program. It's delivered across four kāwai, and the kāwai are broken down into little bits of information that you can learn and interact with and reflect upon.
So the four sections are interacting with whānau, hapū and iwi, values and beliefs, Te Tiriti o Waitangi and systems and structures. So that first visit to Ōtākou marae I was talking about, that was my first Te Pukenga Atawhai ever and I was really lucky because the guest speaker in the Te Tiriti o Waitangi section was Professor Jacinta Ruru whose well known across, well internationally for the role that she played in the personhood of the Whanganui River and Te Urewera. So I have been privileged enough to go on to present the Te Tiriti o Waitangi section at I think 14 or 15 Te Pukenga Atawhai in the five years I've been with the department.
Yeah, it's a real privilege to watch our staff learn. And I think one of the things I really like is that Te Papa Atawhai staff are already passionate about their particular area, so it's not a big leap for them when you introduce them to good quality knowledge. It's not a big leap to be passionate about that as well.
Hearing you talk about Te Tiriti o Waitangi, it’s quite a life changing experience, there’s often a lot of emotion. Is that a common reaction?
It is, because essentially we're challenging long held notions about Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the Treaty of Waitangi, the principles of the treaty. I think I touched on the notion that the education around this hasn't been great. There's been some wonderful teachers and of course we've just lost one of the best, Moana Jackson. And so, you know, and ngā mihi kia Moana. He was a real inspiration, but outside of people like Moana, like Ranginui Walker, quite often this hasn't been taught well.
And often when you are presenting new information that challenges people's beliefs, it's quite a painful process to go through. So it is very evocative and it does bring up a lot of emotions because often we're asking people to put aside things that their parents have told them, their grandparents have told them, things they believed were true. And listen to a different narrative.
Mm. I was lucky enough to be at the Predator Free Summit last year, and I heard Dr Melanie Mark-Shadbolt talk about the treaty, what the treaty promises and it's contextualized it a bit more for me and absolutely blew my mind. I remember scribbling things down like the queen got married four days after the treaty was signed, you know, I just I had no idea.
I don't remember learning this when we were watching castaway in social studies. Yeah. It was a bit frustrating but also there's an expiry date to blaming your education. You've got to find out for yourself I guess. And so we've got a scenario for you. So imagine you're in a lecture hall, you've got 30 eager minds ready for you. What's the coolest conservation story you can think of to hook them in?
Actually, I'm going to be very naughty in pinch one that is going to appear on a BBC documentary in about October. So, you know, apologies to David Attenborough, but I'm going to knock it out from under him.
Copyright Aroha Gilling.
So I'm based in the Nelson Regional Office and we have a series called The DOC Talk and this has been going for two or three years now.
Where each person in the office does a half hour update about something they've been working on or something they’re passionate about. So last week's was one of our senior advisors Graeme Elliott. Graeme's an extremely good storyteller, and he was talking about his and his partner, Kath's volunteer work over summer, where they go down to the Antipodes and they monitor the same section of the island, looking at the wandering albatross.
And they've been doing this for a long, long time. But it was this one little story that really captured my imagination. So in terms of fishing, there's a whole lot of regulations about ways that fishing boats need to mitigate the damage they do to things like creatures, like the wandering albatross. But in international waters, it's much harder to monitor those boats and see that they're actually using the mitigation techniques.
And so a lot of birds are lost to bycatch. So on the Antipodes there's a lot of these old male birds who have had partners and then they've successfully breed with them. But they come back and their partner's gone. They've been part of the bycatch. And these poor old boys, they're just lonely and looking for their partner.
And he had this, this photo of a male wandering albatross standing forlornly by his nest site on a cliff top. And the younger female birds, they might check these old boys out, but they don't really want one of the old fellas. They want one of the hot young fellas. And so these old boys get passed over year after year after year.
So what they've observed happening is the old boys are starting to peer up with each other. And then the next shot he put up were these two old wandering Albatross boys paired up on their nest together for company.
Oh, that's my favourite wildlife story ever.
Really its Graeme’s, not mine, I pinched but it was just such a wonderful story.
Oh, what a story. I just. That took a turn that I didn't expect and I'm so here for it. I love hearing things about that. And with Wandering Albatross, they can go years without touching land. There's just so many incredible native species facts that just blow your mind. Any, any native species fact that blew your mind when you learned it?
It's probably not quite as mind blowing as the wandering albatross. But I've always had this thing about the scree skinks, it’s a Rangitahi Molesworth story again. I always thought they looked like little dragons, but I became even more attached to them when I learnt that sometimes when they're threatened, they dive into a puddle.
They do! I just found there's something so transporting and entertaining about these little brown dragons plunging into a puddle.
Oh, that's – I think the mountain stone wētā, when it gets attacked, it pretends to be dead and it throws up on itself. Oh, buddy.
Oh sometimes you wonder about adaptability. Has it really worked?
You’re not really helping yourself, come on…
I bet! What's something that you wish more people knew about your work?
Let me see, I have to have a wee think about that one. Actually, I think it has to do with visitor behaviour. So I spend a lot of time on Rangitahi Molesworth Recreation Reserve, and I volunteer at Christmas as the camp host. I work there throughout the year, often going to visit with Ngāti Kurī of Kaikōura and my colleagues from South Marlborough.
So I know it pretty well. But this year I noticed there was a real change in the way people were interacting with the environment. And something I'd really like to see is people learning about a place before they go there. So Rangitahi Molesworth is high country, there's an unsealed road all the way through it. It's not a state highway, you can't get the AA to come and rescue you if you drive off the side of the road.
There’s sharp turns, blind corners, steep drop offs. It's hardly got any road marking and there's no corner dairy halfway through. So quite a thing I see quite a lot of us people that don't come prepared for that kind of environment. I'd really like people to do their research, find out where they're going, take plenty of water, food and other appropriate gear so that they are well prepared and safe and there's all sorts of other things too.
This is a really special environment, Rangitahi Molesworth. We've got over 70 threatened plant species there, so I would love to see people treat that environment well, and not ride their motorbikes on the shale and not ride the motorbikes and the four wheel drive vehicles off the roads. Stick to the campsites. Just that one, use the loos – what is it? Poo in the loo! Please not all over the place.
Take your rubbish home with you and look after the important historical places like the cottages. Yeah.
That's very good advice that kind of know before you go and also that weather watch stuff that I feel like people don't quite take into account and then get stuck.
Yeah. I quite often hear the farm staff on the radio saying someone's left a gate open. And that can set the farm operation back by hours and hours and hours as they recover lost stock.
So I guess when we're talking about what's something you wish more people would do, it’s –
Yeah, their homework! Not difficult.
Working in conservation can be challenging and working in the treaty space can be challenging. What kind of thing keeps you going?
The opportunity to combat racism, to contribute to people learning something new, and hopefully changing an attitude. Helping to build allies for iwi hapū and whānau across the country. I think that's really important. And engaging people with good quality information. So I think we've got quite a sophisticated audience these days who can get information from all sorts of different sources really quickly.
So one of the things that I like to be part of is providing good quality information from good sources.
For people at home listening, realizing they don't know enough about Te Tiriti. Are they any recommendations on resources they could start with?
I'm a book lover so I'm starting with books. And I can't go past Claudia Orange, once again, an illustrated history of the Treaty of Waitangi. It's accessible, the information's great and easy to digest. And then if you like that one, go the next step. Get the textbook. Another one I think is a great piece of writing is, I think I've already mentioned it, Ranginui Walker’s Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou, Struggle Without End.
This is a really important book because it was one of the first histories authored by a māori writer and it's stood up well over time. And for a more contemporary book, I think you can't go past the Treaty of Waitangi Companion, Māori and Pakeha from Tasman to Today. And that’s Vincent O'Malley and that's for the people that like the bigger story. This is a great book, it not only has that kind of standard timeline that you would see in a treaty book, but it tells you the wider context of events in our country when something happens.
It looks at key documents, it's got photographs, it’s got quotes. It's one of those books you can pick up and you can read a bit and you think, “well, I never knew that when it was happening.” So a good example of that would be the pine on One Tree Hill being cut down or what's known as He Taua, the events surrounding the clash between māori protesters and engineering students at Auckland University. So yeah, it really pads that history out.
I've got such a list to go to the library for. That's great. Thank you very much. And such a breadth as well.
Thank you so much for your time Aroha, and your generosity with your expertise. I hope people have learned a lot, I know I have.
You're welcome, Erica.
Thank you for listening, I’m your host Erica Wilkinson and this has been the DOC Sounds of Science Podcast. This show is available wherever you get your podcasts, or you can stream it off our website, doc.govt.nz. This podcast is produced by Jayne Ramage with sound and editing by Laura Honey [and Lucy Holyoake]. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave us a review and show our hard-working guests some love. Ka kite.
Episode 19: Wildlife warrior Avi Narula
CITES is an international agreement regulating the import and export of endangered animals and plants. What’s this? And why is it important? CITES officer Avi Narula is going to tell you.
Avi has worked with big cats, endangered turtles, and renegade scamps like skunks and racoons. Now he’s here in Aotearoa New Zealand making sure wildlife goods don’t illegally cross the borders.
The most important thing he wants you to know is that before you shop or travel, please check if your item needs a wildlife permit. More info on our CITES page.
- The birdsong in this episode is a dawn chorus.
- The music used is 'Let’s Get Down to Business' by Cast of Characters.
Te reo Māori translation: Kia ora! Ko Erica Wilkinson tēnei. He kōnae ipurangi tēnei, e pā ana ki ngā Sounds of Science. (Hi! My name is Erica Wilkinson and this is a podcast about Sounds of Science).
We had some sound difficulties with this recording. We’re sorry and have resolved this for future episodes. Avi’s stories are still top notch, and we hope you enjoy the episode.
Transcript for episode 19
00:00:01:02 - 00:00:07:17
Kia ora. I'm Erica Wilkinson, New Zealand's Acting Threatened Species Ambassador. And this is the DOC Sounds of Science Podcast.
00:00:09:22 - 00:00:38:01
Every episode we talk about work being done behind the scenes by DOC’s technical experts, scientists, rangers and the experts in between. Kia ora! Ko Erica Wilkinson tēnei. He kōnae ipurangi tēnei, e pā ana ki ngā Sounds of Science. Today we're diving into the wild world of wildlife trade with one of DOC's CITES officers, Avi Narula. Kia ora Avi!
00:00:38:02 - 00:00:46:22
Kia ora Erica, ko Avi Narula tōku ingoa. Hello [Erica]. My name is Avi Narula and I work for the Department of Conservation CITES team.
00:00:47:09 - 00:01:03:12
Kia ora! Today, Avi and I are talking about CITES, which is an international agreement prohibiting the import and export of endangered animals and plants. Now, what is a CITES officer? And also, why is CITES officer? Well, it's not super easy to explain, so I'm going to let you do it. Why don’t you tell us about your role?
00:01:04:00 - 00:01:34:20
Kia ora Erica. Thanks, so yeah, my role sits within a national compliance team at the Department of Conservation. We're a small unit of five people within the CITES team and as I'll explain in a bit, we constitute the New Zealand CITES Management Authority. I guess the core role is really to facilitate the legal trade or the international cross-border movement of endangered and threatened species that are listed on CITES.
00:01:35:09 - 00:02:08:13
And equally, any trade or international cross-border movement that is illegal. We manage those cases. We follow up, and on some occasions we enforce or further enforce the illegal trade. And I guess the second point to what I do as a CITES officer or endangered species officer, is work really, really closely with our partner border agencies, New Zealand Customs Service and Ministry for Primary Industries, particularly the biosecurity team.
00:02:13:19 - 00:02:21:21
Cross-border movement and working with customs sounds like border control. How is DOC's role different, and why DOC?
00:02:22:01 - 00:02:55:08
Yeah so it's an element of border control. Why DOC? Well DOC we're sort of a three-pronged attack, if you like, when it comes to controlling our border for legal and illegal wildlife trade. So that's where they come into it and under Trade in Endangered Species Act, which is the New Zealand legislation that we operate under to enforce and to implement CITES. New Zealand customs officers and MPI biosecurity officers are also appointed and have the powers under that act. So hence why we work really closely, the three of us.
00:02:58:24 - 00:03:01:16
So why is CITES important, from a high-level view?
00:03:02:20 - 00:03:29:22
So CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna. In other words, plants and animals. It's an international treaty that came into effect in 1975. And it accords protection to over 38,000 species of those which are affected by trade. And we use the word trade quite a lot. It means international cross-border movement.
00:03:29:24 - 00:03:53:04
The way it works is CITES is your framework for guidance, or global guidance of how to regulate and control the movement of animals and plants that are protected. And New Zealand has to do their part. And every country that is signed to CITES does a part.
00:03:53:04 - 00:04:04:11
It's really important for us to be an active part of it because we're helping the global efforts to protect all those species that are affected in the world because of trade.
00:04:05:19 - 00:04:08:19
So without an agreement like CITES, what happens?
00:04:09:19 - 00:04:42:05
Yeah so without the international agreement like CITES in the world, what you'd see happen is you'd see a significant decline in world populations of many species of plants and animals. That are affected by what we know as trade. You take your elephants and rhinos, for example, that are illegally poached for things like ivory or rhino horn and sent or smuggled or trafficked illegally. You take amazing animals like pangolins and they’re illegally poached.
00:04:42:16 - 00:05:09:23
And their scales are trafficked over to Southeast Asian countries in huge amounts, like tonnes and that's what's causing significant decline in these species in the wild. So you would see animals go extinct because of the trade in either live specimens or their parts or derivatives. Really. So that's just the reality of it. Without CITES, you'd start to see a lot of these species we know fall over. And the worst part is …. well,
00:05:09:23 - 00:05:32:02
CITES, [is] even more important because if you protect iconic species or any sort of any species of plant or animal, the rest of the ecosystems that they live in are also protected. I always give the analogy you protect the elephant, you protect the rhino and you protect everything in between that species or that animal and the dung beetle. You know, without the elephant, the dung beetle don’t survive.
00:05:41:09 - 00:05:45:11
And how did you get into this kind of work? It’s very specific.
00:05:45:12 - 00:06:23:16
How did I get into it? I've had a very long tenure in the wildlife and conservation industry, if you will. I’ve got extensive experience in the captive animal industry in the zoological world, I’ve had a bit of marine mammal rescue, some animal and wildlife control work up in Canada as well and some educational outreach in other places around the world, including the US and South Africa.
I hear that you've worked with big cats.
00:06:53:22 - 00:07:12:11
Yeah. It's certainly my passion, big cats. And I have very grateful to be able to work with a variety of species of bug cats, both here in New Zealand but also in South Africa and the US as well.
[Erica]So where did you grow up?
00:07:40:11 - 00:08:21:20
I grew up in the mighty Tāmaki Makaurau in East Auckland, and that's where I went through school, I was born and bred there. As a little old Kiwi boy, [I had] a huge passion for wildlife from as early as I can remember, about three years of age—watching every single documentary I could mostly on big cats and, and h[Avi]ng very supportive parents as well to to follow my passion and my dream and the way that between wanting to become a veterinarian, to just working with animals, to going out into the wild and living out in the bush or doing something in situ conservation now.
Are your family conservationists as well?
I think they've grown to be! My ethnic origin is Indian. So, if you think about some of the traditional sense of Indian families—oh I might get my hand slapped if my mum hears me say this!—but but growing up the traditional thing is to become a doctor or a lawyer or some sort ... Which is a great career.
But when I—I remember telling my grandmother at about the age of 12 that I wanted to work with animals, I know her and my mum were, like ... ‘what?’ My dad has always been supportive. But yeah. As they've seen what I've been able to do and the experiences I've had and seeing what I deem to be success ... they've been able to share that passion, and they’ve certainly grown into [being] their own conservationists and advocates and you know, they tell their friends and extended families.
00:08:22:10 - 00:08:27:22
But yeah, from a very early age, I've always wanted to work with animals in some capacity.
00:10:09:02 - 00:10:10:19
What do you like most about your work?
00:10:11:02 - 00:10:42:01
Yeah, the parts that are really gratifying or rewarding is obviously being able to make a positive difference. Or I feel like we are here in New Zealand and flying the flag for protected species globally, but also being able to fly the flag in terms of being ambassadors or advocates for international species. So yes, enforcing and penalizing illegal trade into New Zealand is certainly a way that we do that.
00:10:42:01 - 00:11:02:08
But more so it's the proactiveness that we try and have within the CITES team and within um yeah, the amount of outreach that we're trying to do now more than ever to try and get the message out there about the plight of animals in an international sense and why that is, especially when it relates to CITES and, and the trade in certain animals.
00:11:03:01 - 00:11:19:19
Most people know about the elephant ivory industry and how horrific that is and elephants are declining and same with rhinos, for example. They’re kind of your marquee species. And so you can lead off of them, off those species as being iconic flagship spaces.
00:11:21:06 - 00:11:30:19
So you mentioned pangolins get trafficked so much. So why them? And then something else like orchids. You wouldn't consider that those two are the main things we're after.
00:11:31:03 - 00:12:02:15
Yeah. Pangolins. The most ... cutest, weirdest looking animal, [they’re] most illegally trafficked mammal on the planet. They are unfortunately trafficked—or their scales are predominantly—the animals arepoached in the wild or taken from the wild, are then killed and then their scales are sent over to Southeast Asia, and to China to be used in traditional medicines.
00:12:02:15 - 00:12:24:22
That's still going on for that very reason. There are some other horrific things that I've heard about, pangolins are put into soups or medicines, etc. But for the most part, it's these scales that are used.
00:12:25:18 - 00:12:26:13
00:12:27:01 - 00:12:52:08
Yeah, same thing. Orchids, take a species known as Denrobium, a genus known as Dendrobium, for example, are used in their raw form in traditional Chinese medicine and Southeast Asian medicine for ... I guess they have traditional sort of medicinal value to them. And so they are used in teas or ground down and used in medicines, et cetera.
00:12:52:17 - 00:12:56:06
What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about CITES work?
00:12:57:01 - 00:13:35:01
I think the biggest is probably two that are the two biggest misconceptions that I've seen in the last four years. Almost four years of being in the team, in this world, it that ... that watch strap, that's made out of alligator skin, for example, [and] no one connects the fact that actually came from a real-life alligator, or the shoes that are made out of reptile skin actually came from a live reticulated python, or what's in my medicine, in my traditional Chinese medicines, actually came from a real animal.
00:13:35:11 - 00:14:04:24
So it’s the connectiveness to the item or the product in your hand to the actual animal. That's one of the biggest misconceptions people see, that I'm seeing that people just don’t realize. And then the other one probably is that despite the provenance of your item ... so if you've got a very, very old piano with Ivory case, because elephants, (and ivory is listed on the convention), or let's say you buy something from a store that you've legally purchased, you’ve bought it in good faith,
00:14:05:00 - 00:14:36:22
If it's comprised of a species that is protected by CITES, it still needs or has some form of regulation or control to it. So still needs a permit. So many cases people go overseas, or purchase something from overseas and they bring it into New Zealand or import it in and they say, ‘Well, I put it in a store’ or you know, ‘it's been in the family for 400 years’ or ‘I purchased this from an auction.’
00:14:36:23 - 00:15:01:19
Andyes, that's fine. But without a permit we can't prove its provenance that it was legally purchased or harvested or sustainably bought. So yeah, we talk about it with a lot of people, like ... a permit is like a passport for your specimens, and that just relates back to how CITES works really is it's on a licensing system, a permitting system.
00:15:02:06 - 00:15:06:24
OK, so I can bring Grandma's piano in, but I need a permit. [I need] the piece of paper that goes with it.
00:15:07:05 - 00:15:25:01
Yeah, so that piece of paper actually states ‘yes, it's very, very old and it predates that convention, it predates 1975 when the convention came into effect’ but it's something official that's come from CITES authority to CITES authority to say ‘yes that is very, very old.’
00:15:25:23 - 00:15:26:14
00:15:26:21 - 00:16:02:15
It's very similar to us going to an international border, and I like to use analogy for people to get their head around it. Me and you are all well and good, we're great law-abiding citizens, but if I don't have a passport with me when I go to an international border to prove who I am, then I'm not getting into that country. And the same thing goes with any items or goods, or even whether it's manufactured or unmanufactured, you need to be to prove provenance and legal, sustainable, legal harvesting or sustainable acquisition.
00:16:03:00 - 00:16:18:01
That's such a good analogy. I feel like when you're talking about the buying it from a real shop as well, I think a lot of the time people think of CITES as what you can bring on a plane, but is it online shopping as well? What kind of stuff has this been an online shopping problem for you?
00:16:18:09 - 00:16:43:16
Yeah, actually, so before I maybe tackle the online shopping--which has become even more evident during the last two years of the pandemic--there are three main pathways are certainly the passenger pathway through international airports. And we've got the mail pathway and we've also got the cargo pathway. Those are the three main channels that people can import things, or items or goods that have potentially CITES species in them.
00:16:44:19 - 00:17:20:14
Yeah, you're right. Just so it's not just bringing something in on you through an airport. But yes, certainly through online shopping recently we've seen a huge increase in that with the pandemic and no one being able to travel anywhere. So I guess what we've found is people are just buying things off your Amazons, your eBays and other international websites thinking it's fine and legitimate and legal to do so and it should have no issues coming into New Zealand without thinking further that, ‘hey, actually, what I'm buying may be an endangered or a protected species ...’
00:17:20:14 - 00:17:45:08
‘I might have to do a bit more thinking and digging into what else is needed to legally import it into New Zealand’. A lot of people have the misconception that I bought something legally in a country so that should be fine. I can just bring it into New Zealand, no dramas but as soon as that item or that those goods get on a plane and come across an international border there are other rules and regulations that do apply.
00:17:45:08 - 00:17:48:09
And then in this case, CITES for any protected animal or plant.
00:17:48:24 - 00:17:59:16
So there are three different types, passenger, mail and cargo. People must try and bring in weird stuff through all of those things. Can you give me a few examples of what you've come across?
00:17:59:22 - 00:18:36:07
Gosh, yeah. Look, cargo we see at the moment in recent times we've seen a lot of household moves back to New Zealand after the pandemic, but obviously during the pandemic, to get out and get back home. And people have acquired all sorts of wonderful taxidermied trophies of skins of mammals or really old shells they've collected that are potentially listed on CITES, old turtle shells.
00:18:36:07 - 00:19:17:16
And through the mail pathway, we're seeing weird and wonderful, it's just hobbyists through the mail pathway. People wanting to send weird curiosities online and going oh that’ll look nice on the mantlepiece. So big owls like great grey owls, like a full taxidermied great grey owl coming in and coming from weird and wonderful places like Russia and European countries. We saw, so a Saiga Antelope, we saw a whip, almost like a bullwhip with the hoof of a Saiga Antelope come in a little while ago which is bizarre as well. We've seen, you know knives that have handles made of hippo tusks.
00:19:17:16 - 00:19:46:21
I'm trying to think what other species it came from, but things like that have come through. We've had crocodile skin and really strange looking purses and products manufactured out of python skin. Some of the musical instruments that have, the Chinese musical instruments, their called Erhu that have separate Python skin is the part that makes up the drum.
00:19:47:13 - 00:19:56:12
So it is these honestly all sorts that come through that are that are very different. Yeah. Every day is slightly different.
00:19:57:01 - 00:20:03:15
Keeps it interesting. And what happens when something that comes across is a taonga? What do you do then?
00:20:04:05 - 00:20:28:19
Yeah, it's a highly sensitive subject. It depends if the taonga is Māori. Taonga to different cultures is many different things and [that’s] something that we talk about quite a lot with border agency partners and amongst the team. And I guess it's something that is probably developing more and more as we move more and more into this space--
00:20:29:01 - 00:21:28:17
Around active protection, of especially Māori taonga. To boil it back a little bit. Under CITES framework, there is no cultural bias to any culture or items that are essentially seen as taonga to that culture. So if you think of First Nations people of Canada or Native Am[Erica]ns eagle feathers, products made out of grizzly bear or black beer are considered taonga. Fijian tabua, which is necklaces made out of sperm whale teeth are taonga, and rightfully so for other cultures if you will. With New Zealand taonga particularly, we're talking about things like whalebone, large whalebone that's carved into necklaces passed down through iwi, generations within iwi, and also things like kākāpō or kea feathers, or korowai, things like that.
00:21:28:17 - 00:22:00:21
Under the Trade in Endangered Species Act (TIES) here in New Zealand we have an exemption for items or goods that were acquired originally in New Zealand. So for example, if someone takes a whale bone carving out of New Zealand to another country and brings it back into New Zealand and doesn't have any permits.
When we implement CITES in New Zealand, we use the Trade in Endangered Species Act, it's our legislation and under our legislation we have an exemption for New Zealand acquired items so they can come in without, (or exempt from,) permitting. So we try and facilitate that, or look at it through that lens. But unfortunately for other taonga, if you will, like Fijian tabua, which is which is a big one that we see come through, Fijian nationals will bring it in if they are visiting or if they live here, they bring it back from Fiji and these necklaces that have been family heirlooms for years within the family and it's always a tough one for us.
00:22:44:14 - 00:23:19:02
But if they come in without paperwork or their appropriate CITES documentation, then unfortunately under the act it's pretty black and white. They have to be seized and they’re forfeit to the crown. That's always a difficult one. But at the end of the day it is sperm whale tooth, so yeah, that's why its so important for us, and we've done a bit of outreach recently, in the last couple of years we've done outreach over to Fiji and asking the Fijian CITES authorities to get out and at least see if they can get the word out around: if you’re taking tabua overseas, especially to New Zealand, please get a permit.
00:23:24:15 - 00:23:30:21
So let's really emphasize any animal and plant product you're trying to bring out, just get a permit. Yeah?
00:23:31:07 - 00:24:10:14
Just check, check. Always check before you travel because by the time you do start traveling and get to New Zealand, it's already too late because we cannot accept retrospectively issued permits. So you must always check, if you’re thinking of buying something online, if you’re going to a tropical destination, one of the Pacific Island countries, and you decide to pick up a Nautilus shell or some giant clams off the beach, to bring back as a souvenir or a product made out of turtle shell, you need to make sure you're thinking do I need a permit to I need something to help me legally bring that into New Zealand.
00:24:14:08 - 00:24:16:09
Or if you’re like my sister, sand in a bottle.
00:24:17:05 - 00:24:18:17
Sand in a bottle! Yep.
00:24:19:19 - 00:24:30:19
And in your team have been working with iwi here in Aotearoa to ensure iwi or hapu traveling overseas for cultural performance reasons know that they need to check before traveling with taonga, is that right?
00:24:31:11 - 00:24:59:21
Yeah, that's right. And I guess in our efforts to have active of protection for Māori taonga, Aotearoa taonga--and it's ramping up actually, our outreach efforts will be ramping up in that space with traveling overseas with taonga. But we have done a bit of outreach initially and we started to ramp that up but of course then Covid hit. So then everything got kind of shelved a little bit because no one could travel overseas.
00:24:59:21 - 00:25:30:23
But yes, what our advice is to any iwi that are traveling overseas with things like Māori, taonga, in the form of whalebone carvings, even if it's worn around you, it's that you need to make sure that you check in with Te Papa Atawhai, the Department of Conservation, the CITES management authority here, just to make sure that you have the right documentation you need when going to another country because unfortunately if it gets seized, at the end of the day if its whale bone and it doesn't have the appropriate documentation in another country and it is seized, there's not much we can do to get that precious taonga back.
00:25:31:08 - 00:25:58:01
One of the cool things we did was help facilitate legal entry of the New Zealand Olympic team’s korowai recently to the Winter Olympics and to the Summer Olympics and we'll probably do it again now with the Commonwealth Games coming up. So that's really cool, you know, being a part of that process to make sure that the teams korowai for the flag bearers gets to go over and goes over there legally.
00:25:58:14 - 00:26:14:03
Oh, that is a cool job. Can you tell us about some of the sad things that you've had to seize?
00:26:15:08 - 00:26:48:09
Yeah, the hard ones that you need to try and compartmentalize your emotions, and it’s hard to do, they’re all humans, is people's family heirlooms. They're always tough ones, whether it's Appendix one, highly protected sea turtle shell that's been in a family for years. Coming across from the islands, and it means so much to them. But under the act here, if it comes in... see all sea turtles are really highly protected, they’re in Appendix 1, the same as elephants and rhinos.
00:26:48:21 - 00:27:11:19
And so you definitely need to get the right permits, and if it arrives here without those, they are seized. So yeah, I know personally I’ve had to seize a couple of family heirlooms, that were turtle shells that were just real heart breaking. It’s always difficult with tabua which is the sperm whale teeth necklaces. The good part is we don't dispose of those and they, at periodic points we repatriate that back to the Fijian government.
00:27:12:06 - 00:27:35:16
Yeah we've had a lot of people unfortunately get really upset with us on the phone, you know, because of their items and there's just not a heck of a lot we can do in terms of our legislational leniency. Other things have been people's really high-end crocodile skins that they've had or jackets and shoes and belts all manufactured out of crocodilia, so alligator or crocodile leather.
00:27:35:16 - 00:27:47:08
So yeah, I mean there's been a huge variety just giving you a bit of a snapshot of, of the types of things that really are difficult.
00:27:48:08 - 00:27:57:06
You've had such an incredible career doing so many different things. If you think of your DOC career, what's been your best day at work? Can you think of one?
00:27:58:05 - 00:28:27:13
The one that I think will stand out for me, just based off your question is we got intel and we got a report through from New Zealand customs to say that two huge crates of ivory had been seized that have come in through the cargo pathway without any documentation whatsoever. And it just said ivory. And that obviously all got our alarm bells ringing, if you like, and red flags up.
00:28:27:20 - 00:29:11:17
And so we promptly went out to the facility they were all being detained at and managed to do... this was a really cool one because I hadn't probably done a co-joint inspection with New Zealand customs officers and MPI biosecurity officers and us all at the same time. And so when we got there, we opened up these gigantic crates and even within the couple of days we got there, I had spoken to the importer, who had just bought this ivory from a friend in the US who had closed down an art gallery and just shipped all these highly worked carved ivory items.
00:29:12:03 - 00:29:54:02
And I knew that in the state of California, where they had come from, there's a total ban on ivory, both importing and exporting. And so, you know, there was alarm bells ringing, he did mention that it was mammoth ivory as well, which obviously mammoths being extinct, they're not listed on the convention. They're not protected by CITES being an extinct species. So again, going into this inspection, knowing that I have previous knowledge that a lot of times when people trade in mammoth ivory, which, you know, the permafrost is melting up in parts of Russia and Siberia, and that arctic area, that circle there.
00:29:54:08 - 00:30:16:05
And you are seeing a lot of evidence of mammoth now, but there have been lots of reports around the world that elephant ivory, modern day elephant ivory is also smuggled and thrown in and made to look like mammoth ivory. All right. So you’re going into this inspection with the other border agencies, knowing all of this so that's the type of thing, you’re like, this is quite significant, or could be.
00:30:17:06 - 00:30:42:18
So, you know, h[Avi]ng to methodically unwrap a lot of these tusks that were sometimes... some of the tusks that we were seeing, were highly worked or with sort of Chinese cultural, traditional carvings on them, actually. And the price tags on some of these were, you know, $140 to $300,000 USD.
00:30:43:03 - 00:31:18:12
So you’re thinking ‘holy smokes!’ Yeah. Like I said, holding these, unwrapping... there was about almost 80 pieces from 30 cm long to well over a meter and a half. And sure enough, some of them were very evidently mammoth just based on the physical characteristics of the tusk. Those long, curved, sweeping tusks that are very indicative of mammoth but others you just, you know, this is where we’re h[Avi]ng to put all of our ID skills to the test of how do you distinguish between elephant ivory and mammoth ivory and there’s some key identifying characteristics.
00:31:18:15 - 00:31:50:07
You look at Schreger lines and you look at characteristics of the ivory, especially Schreger lines and when you don't have any evidence of that, you scratching your head and your going, we've gone through quite a few, and there’s other diagnostic ways to ID a mammoth versus elephant. We ended up h[Avi]ng to send this all for further DNA sampling, so we managed to use the services of ESR here in Auckland, for DNA sampling, which is quite amazing actually, to see how all that process works, and the methods to be able to do that.
00:31:50:07 - 00:32:18:21
And we also did some radiocarbon dating as well, and we did a fair few samples as a subset of these 80-odd items to just narrow down anything to come back as modern day elephant, in terms of the genome sequencing, the DNA sequencing. Lo and behold, this is sort of the best days, is that I was actually holding items that were over 40,000 years old, in my hand.
00:32:19:01 - 00:32:47:04
And that's just a mind blowing thing. So it didn't work out to be modern day elephant. It was all mammoth in the end. And so it was released to the importer and no CITES documentation was required. However, just the fact of knowing that potentially there’s elephant ivory smuggled in there and then the fact that I'm holding something that's huge and it came from a mammoth was just like mind blowing. That was the best day, for sure.
00:32:47:14 - 00:32:50:04
That's also the strangest day I’d say, one of the strangest days anyway.
00:32:50:12 - 00:33:00:24
I mean, surely it's up there even with a job like yours. That's incredible that you did DNA sampling in order to test, like how intensive.
00:33:01:08 - 00:33:11:05
Yeah. And carbon dating. It's quite impressive to see how you can use a lot of those wildlife forensic methods to help with CITES operations in New Zealand.
00:33:13:15 - 00:33:27:18
OK, so we've got a scenario for you. You're at a school. I know you've said you do a lot of education outreach. Maybe they're about 11 years old. You're trying to get them into conservation ... what’s the coolest conservation fact that you can think of to hook them on your mahi?
00:33:29:05 - 00:34:04:12
Oh my gosh, [Erica], there's so many animals and plants that are just the most amazing things. Way better than humans, aren’t they? In terms of facts, I'd say some of the ones, if you're talking about young minds and getting them hooked on the mahi that we do, you know, talking about things like gorillas are eight times stronger than us. You know, if you think about the strongest human and then think about an adult male gorilla and it's eight times stronger than you or a cheetah can run as fast as you car goes on the motorway, you know, 124km an hour or sperm whales, they sleep vertically, who knew?
00:34:04:12 - 00:34:44:07
And if you're into insects, you know, you've got the Queen Alexandra birdwing butterfly, and that has a wingspan the size of a medium sized bird. The wingspan is about 27, 25cm long. So if you like birds of prey, then Martial eagles from Africa, if they landed on your head and use their talons, they’d squash your head like a watermelon. Big cats, some of them purr and some of them roar but you can't do both so you think about a mountain lion or a puma they purr, they can't roar, their known as a lesser big cat.
00:34:44:07 - 00:34:47:09
Whereas if you look at a lion or a tiger they roar, they can’t purr.
00:34:50:02 - 00:35:09:22
Just cool things like that allow kids to understand or be inspired by how amazing, and these are all CITES listed species but how amazing you know animals can be, they just blow you away and that's enough to inspire young minds to persevere and to pursue a career in conservation.
00:35:09:22 - 00:35:20:03
Absolutely. And it's so important to hook people in with a nature fact like that. And as soon as you get them to care, they're in, they're not going to try and bring in ivory.
00:35:21:09 - 00:35:26:09
Or at least check before they do.
So have you ever had a moment in the field where everything just went wrong?
00:43:34:03 - 00:43:34:17
Yeah. Yep. Quite a few of them actually. If I think about some previous roles, one of the roles I had previously when I lived in Canada was as an animal and wildlife control officer in the city of London, Ontario. And that was also a role that was just like a box of chocolates, you never knew what you were going to get. This day happened to be a good old cold Canadian winter’s day -25 degrees.
00:44:00:08 - 00:44:24:20
And we talk about cold New Zealand, and that’s certainly cold. And anyway this day started off like any other you know there’s a few different call outs but it's quickly escalated to just another level really. In my role we would see unfortunately a lot of urban wildlife like skunks and raccoons and coyotes, the odd deer that succumbed to different diseases that they would catch, whether it's distemper, which is one of the main ones, not too much that you come across as being rabies but certainly distemper and some of the other conditions up there, to name a few.
00:44:25:05 - 00:45:06:18
But this particular occasion I got called out to a raccoon. And if you've been to Canada or North Am[Erica], raccoons look cuddly and cute and really, really, you know, but if you get close to them if you threaten them or if they’re not well, holy, they are scary. For me, they’re scarier than a big cat. Raccoons they have this God-awful, bloodcurdling scream that they can do as well.
00:45:06:18 - 00:45:33:06
And this animal, was suffering very badly from distemper and we use the pole nooses, that you've seen them occasionally use them with dogs, we use them just from a safe distance. We can secure the head. And that's how we move them. Unfortunately, with distempered raccoons, they’re picked up like distempered skunks which I’ll get to in a sec.
00:45:33:06 - 00:45:59:22
This call out was at 10:00 in the morning, just another raccoon, unfortunately, gets poled, it’s secured, put into a transport cage in the back of my car and right, I'm going to head back to the veterinary department at the rescue centre, at the animal centre there to get it looked at, and treated if possible. Otherwise, you know, unfortunate they get euthanized. But it's better that, than them suffering. Sure enough, within a half hour after heading back, I get another urgent callout.
00:46:00:12 - 00:46:21:16
A lady’s called up the animal centre and has said that she's got two skunks in her house. And if anyone knows what skunks are like, I mean, you get sprayed by a skunk, you are not getting it off for a long time, like people's dogs get sprayed by skunks and it is the most God-awful, pungent smell you’ve ever smelt in your life.
00:46:21:16 - 00:46:50:03
This lady had two of them crawling around in her house and unfortunately skunks are primarily nocturnal. So, coming out at night-time just like raccoons, through the day sorry, is not normal. So straight away, alarm bells going. Gosh, how am I going to get two skunks running around someone's house of all places? Sure enough, tight basement unit trying to get this pole in there. Anyways I happen to secure these two and of course the pressure, I’ve got sweaty armpits just thinking about it.
00:46:50:03 - 00:47:20:23
Trying to get these skunks without getting sprayed is one skill to certainly learn. And this lady who was screaming at me. Got these skunks, got them into the van as well. So, you can imagine I have a raccoon in there that’s very aggressive, two skunks that are spraying the entire van, I'm sure they sprayed the raccoon.
00:47:20:23 - 00:47:24:18
So I've got a van smelling of skunk. Have you ever smelled skunk, [Erica]?
00:47:24:18 - 00:47:27:15
No, I haven't. I don't know how to find that on Google.
00:47:28:24 - 00:48:00:11
Yeah it’s just an experience you have to go through I guess. And then so getting them in there, and then I get called to one of the local hospitals and in behind the local hospitals, another urgent call that day and this must’ve been just after lunch. An urgent phone call about a fawn, a baby deer that's been attacked by a coyote and it's had its tail bitten off and part of its leg has been chewed.
00:48:00:11 - 00:48:12:06
And so it's bleeding quite profusely and trying to catch baby fawn that’s petrified, injured, running in and around the compounds of the back of a hospital proves to be quite interesting.
00:48:13:22 - 00:48:38:03
So you can imagine all these people running around with nets and blankets and yeah it would have made for a pretty entertaining, you know, get your popcorn for that one. But we managed to secure this fawn finally, after running around for almost an hour trying to catch him, poor guy,
00:48:38:03 - 00:48:53:06
Stop the bleeding, he ended up sitting shotgun with me in the front seat because I didn't want him anywhere near the skunks, he wasn't as bad as the others, the skunks and the raccoons, so I've got this fawn, I never got a photo, but I’ve got a fawn in the front seat with me cruising down all the way back to the animal centre.
00:48:53:06 - 00:49:12:04
And so, you come back with … it’s almost like Noah's Ark a little bit, with four wheels. Shoot back, long story short is unfortunately the skunks and the raccoons all had to be put down, but the fawn was able to be saved and we managed to patch it all up and release it back into the same bush area. Mum was waiting there so good old Bambi got saved.
00:49:12:19 - 00:49:36:07
But just towards again, the end of the day, I get a phone call about a dog, a Victorian bulldog that has a attacked its owner and savaged his arm, put like 60 or 70 stitches, I believe it was, I didn’t actually see it, it was all bandaged up.
00:49:36:07 - 00:49:59:00
But he said about 60 or 70 stitches in it which was like ‘holy…’ and this dog was now on the loose, had jumped it’s fence and was on the loose in a very highly populated area like a neighbourhood. And so h[Avi]ng to call colleagues to come by and when you have situations like that with dangerous dogs, you really you know you need all your senses.
00:49:59:00 - 00:50:22:15
And after a pretty harrowing, you know four hours I was like ‘gosh!’ going into this. A couple of Red Bulls later and we managed to corner this dog into an area. Any kids playing on the streets, you know, that was kind of our job is to get [them] inside and stay[ing] away and we had the police involved as well but we managed to secure this dog after quite a bit of running around.
00:50:22:15 - 00:50:37:11
It was dark for now it was still -25 degrees and still really cold really, really cold. I'd say that would be a day when everything's gone to absolute anarchy for me in the day in the life of a wildlife control officer.
00:50:37:17 - 00:50:44:19
That’s …? But you did everything that you could. And I mean, we need more people like you.
00:50:45:02 - 00:50:51:21
[…] Oh, I'm just a small fraction of the amount of amazing people out there. I'm just one.
00:50:52:06 - 00:50:54:21
And what a missed photo opportunity. That's what I'm cross about here.
00:50:55:03 - 00:50:59:18
Yeah can you imagine. Here’s Bambi riding in the front seat.
00:51:00:00 - 00:51:00:21
That’s right, just hanging out.
00:51:01:11 - 00:51:07:04
So it has nothing really to do with CITES, but I guess around a day when everything went to custard.
00:51:07:16 - 00:51:13:16
That's cooler than my work stories. I'm not going to lie. What's something that you wish more people knew about CITEs?
00:51:16:13 - 00:51:44:01
Look, the biggest one is that it exists, that there is this international convention that exists and it serves to protect, you know, plants and animals and their populations in the wild that are being affected because of international trade. And that's not just, I guess, the other big point about CITES, it doesn't just, it's not just about live animals and plants, raw products.
00:51:44:07 - 00:52:30:04
It's also highly manufactured things as well. Items and goods that are highly manufactured [which] you've got to turn your minds to when you're when you moving items and goods … medicines … things like that across international borders or more specifically here into New Zealand, or out of New Zealand, they may contain protected plants or animals in them. You really just need to do your due diligence and check and be a responsible kiwi and to ensure that, you know, if it does or potentially could, you're asking the right questions and trying to seek the right information so that, you know, you don't contribute to the illegal wildlife trade in some in some way and that you're trying to do things in the most responsible and sustainable way that you can.
00:52:33:24 - 00:52:39:12
How can someone help you and your team do your work?
00:52:41:01 - 00:53:09:09
Yep. Spread the message that there is this convention, and that thousands of species are protected by it and that it's really important to check if you need any permits or documentation before you look to buy something weird and wonderful online or ask a family member to bring traditional medicines over into New Zealand with them now that borders are reopening.
00:53:09:09 - 00:53:29:09
Or if you're looking to go on a tropical holiday, over to one of the Pacific Islands, please check if you decide to pick up a souvenir like a clamshell or some coral off the beach, or some earrings made of turtle shell, just know that you need to check that you might need a permit to bring them back into the country. Or you could face further penalties.
00:53:32:08 - 00:53:35:04
And you can check on the website that, is that right?
00:53:36:03 - 00:53:59:01
Yeah, the DOC website, we have specific CITES webpages, it’s www.doc.govt.nz/CITES. Yeah, the take home message: “think before you shop”. Everybody plays a part really. We're not going to be able to protect all these species globally, if everyone doesn't do their part, to ensure that they make sure everything is legal.
00:53:59:01 - 00:54:18:16
Avi, you have such an important job, that is one part in preventing the decline and extinction of so many species. I think you should be incredibly proud of what you do. Thank you so much for teaching us about it all. I feel much better prepared for a trip overseas or even when I online shop. So thank you very much for being here.
00:54:19:22 - 00:54:28:04
Kia ora [Erica], thanks for the opportunity. And a big shout out to the rest of everyone that works in this space, in the Department.
00:54:28:11 - 00:54:29:14
You're all superheroes.
00:54:30:18 - 00:54:32:22
All Wildlife Warriors, yeah. Kia ora.
00:54:33:21 - 00:54:44:09
Thank you for listening, I’m your host Erica Wilkinson and this has been the DOC Sounds of Science Podcast. This show is available wherever you get your podcasts, or you can stream it off our website, doc.govt.nz. This podcast is produced by Jayne Ramage with sound and editing by Laura Honey. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave us a review and show our hard-working guests some love. Ka kite.
Episode 18: Cryptic critters
Stories about velvet worms, tiny frogs, crooning bats and more from ecologist Jess Scrimgeour.
Jess knows that the Fab Five—in this case we mean kākāpō, kiwi, whio, takahē, and kererū—are easy to love, but she wants to light your spark for the hard to see, hard to hear, or hard to find critters too: like pekapeka/bats, wētā, pepeketua/frogs, and even the peripatus/velvet worm which fires a sticky substance when it feels threatened. How iconic.
- The birdsong in this episode is a dawn chorus.
- The music used is 'Let’s Get Down to Business' by Cast of Characters.
Te reo Māori translation:
Kia ora! Ko Erica Wilkinson tēnei. He kōnae ipurangi tēnei, e pā ana ki ngā Sounds of Science. (Hi! My name is Erica Wilkinson and this is a podcast about Sounds of Science).
Transcript for episode 18
Kia ora I'm Erica Wilkinson, New Zealand’s Acting Threatened Species Ambassador and this is the DOC Sounds of Science podcast.
Every episode, we talk about work being done behind the scenes by DOC's technical experts, scientists, rangers, and the experts in between.
Kia ora! Ko Erica Wilkinson tēnei. He kōnae ipurangi tēnei, e pā ana ki ngā Sounds of Science.
Today we're talking to one of my favourite ecologists. If you're allowed to have favourites when you work at DOC, Jess Scrimgeour. Kia ora Jess.
Kia ora Erica. Tēnā koutou katoa. Ko Jess Scrim tōku ingoa. Kei te mātanga mātai hauropi e Te Papa Atawhai ki Tūrangi.
Hi Erica, hello to everyone. My name is Jess Scrimgeour. I'm a technical adviser ecology with Department of Conservation and I'm based here in the beautiful Tūrangi in the Central North Island.
It's great to have you here. Jess is one of the country's premier ecologists. During her career with Te Papa Atawhai. She's worked with creatures big and small. She's monitored kākāpō on Whenua Hou, searched for the Mahoenui giant wētā on Te Kūiti, led the National Kiwi Recovery Program and given advice on just about every species you could imagine. So tell me about your job.
What's your role at DOC?
Well, my formal title is Technical Advisor, which doesn't tell anyone very much about what I do. So if you have an ecological problem, then you can come to me whether you're inside of DOC or outside. And my job is to help you find an answer or give you advice on how to solve that problem. And I would say most of the time I don't know the answers.
So my job is to talk to all of the wonderful people around the country and come up with a solution or an answer that helps make your life easier and makes you successful in conservation.
So you're an expert in ecology as a as a umbrella. Completely, yeah.
Yeah. So although I know some things and some things well, I'm more of a generalist. And if anything, the skill is about how to find the right information across many different sources. And then I get to learn along the way.
How did you get into this work?
So I like to tell my back story, which is that I was raised in South Africa, and I was lucky enough to be raised on a national park. So in South Africa, these parks are far more tourist based. So you have your bungalows and your hotels. My dad was the electrician there, but a lot of my friends and the parents of my friends were conservationists and rangers.
So I got lots of experiences on the back of ute chasing after zebras or wildebeest. Going to look at vultures coming to feed on a carcuss. And then my parents announced that as a teenager we’re moving to New Zealand and I didn't think there was that many exciting things in New Zealand to pay attention to. And so as I started to settle in and get to know New Zealand a lot better, I've come to realise that actually New Zealand is way better and have a lot more unique and interesting things.
And so, yeah, in high school I decided to pick up biology and here I am.
Even though there are no zebras, it's still cooler.
Oh, yes, much better. And we'll talk more about that.
We sure will.
I’m sure I’ll convince you.
What do you like most about your work? What do you get out of it?
So something that I like the most, I think, is although I'm based in Tūrangi I get to work with really passionate people across the country, so on any given day, I might be talking to people and in Te Tai Tokerau in Northland all the way down to Rakiura Stewart Island and this is real sense I think they were all aiming to make a difference and that you get the opportunity to make a difference.
And so, so yes, when you go out in the field and you get to see what it is that you're protecting and where you're trying to make a difference, it gives you that real sense of purpose but what keeps me coming back day to day are the people and the way we working together to get the job done.
You've helped on some really big projects and you started at DOC with the Kākāpō Recovery Team. Is that right?
Yeah, what a lucky start.
What a start as a summer job.
Yeah, it was just it was a summer job. I was still at university and I had the privilege of going down to Whenua Hou really, the only thing I was there to do is to do what others told me to do - the things they didn't necessarily want to do. So if you wanted that signal for that kākāpō on the highest point, then they would send me.
And so it was a really great opportunity, I think, to see conservation and action for the first time. You know, you're in the middle of nowhere. You don't have all the luxuries of civilization around you. You have to walk everywhere. Everything's so green. And then to make it all worth it, you get to interact with this incredibly charismatic bird that you fall in love with instantly.
And so after that summer, there is no changing my mind. The conservation and working with on conservation was this and I haven't looked back. Wow.
So for the last four years, you've been with the National Kiwi Recovery Team. What have what have you been up to there?
So I have been leading the Kiwi Recovery Group. So the Kiwi Recovery Group are a group of experts that's up both within DOC and outside. And our job is to essentially set the strategic direction. So what's the plan for the next ten years to make sure that all five species of kiwi are heading in the right direction? And so often when we think about kiwi, we think about brown, kiwi and the North Island kiwi.
But in the South Island, we've got our rarest kiwi species for instance, is the rowi, and we've only got, you know, 600 individuals left in the entire world. Totally. And so our job is to to work with everyone around the country to make sure that we don't lose kiwi. Such an iconic species and everyone. It's just been amazing to see this collective effort that has gone in from hundreds of groups outside of dock and that kind of passion and dedication.
So it's been a real privilege to say that I've been a part of this across the country for the last four years.
That's incredible. What do you think is the biggest misconception people have around conservation?
So I've been really lucky in my career to work with really high profile species but at the same time work on a whole range of species that people don't even know exist. And so one of the greatest misconceptions that I've noticed is that when I say that I work in conservation, people get really excited about that. You know, it's a really sexy kind of career to have.
And the things that they tend to quote to me are kiwi, kākāpō, kōkako, you know, those really big high profile. And across the board, we're really good at selling our success stories for these species. And in actual fact, in the background, a lot of conservation is just heartbreaking. And a lot of that, from my experience, tends to be the species that aren't in the limelight and, you know, sort of in the background that people don't even know are going in the wrong direction.
So as an example, if you're driving past Lake Taupō between Tūrangi and Taupō, this random little island sitting in the middle of the lake and it's called Motutaiko and on this island we've got this tiny, nondescript species of snail called Wainuia clarki
And for a long time, so we don't exactly know how the snail got out there, but for a long time, this has been the stronghold for the species.
They get nobbled by rats and hedgehogs and possums, and rats got out to the island and now we can't find them anymore. So we got rid of the rats, and we really hopeful that maybe a few [snails] have hung on and that if we go check again, that they might still be there. But I think often about everyone driving past this island, looking at it and not thinking about it very much, with this potential that this incredible loss had happened and you just don't even know about it.
And I can think of, of a number of examples of things that I've worked on. We were not winning with things or going backwards and it's heartbreaking. And so I personally am on a bit of a crusade to bring these cryptic species up in profile so that if you can see the effort that goes into the things people care for like kiwi, like kākāpō, and we could bring that to other species where people don't know that they're or they're hard to love Well, I'm here to tell you how lovable they are.
And so my crusade is on.
So it begins.
So let's start what is a cryptic species?
OK, so a cryptic species is a species that is hard to find. So they're not very obvious and not a lot of people know about them. So there's a bit of mystery around them. I think that it's either. So, for instance, pekapeka, bats, they're only found at nighttime, so they're not visible. And when they do fly around, they use no sound.
So the way they navigate is with echolocation, in a hearing range that humans can't pick up without a device. And so you could wander around the bush or you like and even know that right above you as all this life, all this activity happening, or they are incredibly good at camouflaging themselves. So you can be in the bush going for a walk and not know that there is this really interesting bug sitting there or frog or a lizard.
And so, yes, so cryptic species just hard to find and a bit of a challenge really.
But just as important as kākāpō.
What are your favourites of the the cryptics. Do you have one?
If I had to think about a favourite, that's the one that catches you by surprise. I think. So this is something that I really like about cryptic species. So if I go back to that snail, that Wainuia clarki, it's the size of a 50 cent piece and it's a brown. It’s a devil of a thing to find in leaf litter, you really have to work for it. And they hide from you and it sits there, but when they eventually decide to poke a hit out, they're just this radiant purple colour that completely catches you by surprise.
And that's the kind of stuff that really connects you to it. And one of my other favourites that has a similar effect, talking about people is, is the peripatus. Now, the peripatus is something that hides from you and you kind of stumble across them. And so when I'm out there doing snail monitoring, occasionally, if you're lucky, you get this beautiful, ‘looks-like-a worm-but-isn’t.
It's called well, its common name is called a velvet worm. But what's amazing about it is that it is unchanged for the last 500 million years. So it's not related to a worm. It's not related to an insect. It's somewhere in between. And they reckon it's going to be in the same clade as like, tardigrades
Which are the little water bears that you know, are indestructible, can exist in space kind of thing. But what I like about the peripatus, one: when you find it, it's like a treasure that you found. But two: the surprise factor is that when it gets scared or it's trying to catch something, it spits this sticky substance at you, which catches you by surprise.
So I think when it comes to choosing a favourite, it's really hard to they've all got these amazing qualities that I have a particular fondness for those that kind of catch you by surprise.
That is very cool. How do you feel about the powelliphanta?
Ahh, the powelliphanta. So they are amazing. So they're carnivorous, giant land snail what I mean by that is that they have the ability to suck up worms like spaghetti and they are just like, you think they're slow? There's this clip. Everyone should Google it. There's a clip of the powelliphanta sitting there really quietly, and then suddenly it lashes out and grabs this worm and it just catches you completely by surprise.
We have we have these plots out in the Kaimanawa. It's really interesting, actually. So the thing that gets them are possums, but it's a learned behaviour. So we've got this population split by a river, and on one side, the possums have learned how to get them. But on the other side, the possums haven't. And so we so we protecting or trying to get all of the possums that have this behaviour out of the way.
But on the other side of the river, we don't have to bother because for some reason they're just not cueing into it. And I don't know why, but the problem being is that just as soon as we've kind of cracked this one conservation challenge and we're doing really well, they're going all in the right direction. And then about ten years ago, we went out and we found all these shells--beautifully intact,
So it was definitely not a possum nor a rat. None of that. And a coincide sided with a particularly dry year. And so what we're finding now that as things are getting drier, you know, climate change, there's all these models showing that parts of New Zealand are just going to get worse. Not only are we going to have drier conditions, but the condition of our forests aren’t great.
We've got all these browsers eating out the understory. So we haven't got this ability to hold on to the moisture. And now we're starting to see that affecting our powelliphanta so there's a whole new challenge there for us that we're going to have to try and figure out.
And it must be really difficult working with cryptic spaces in terms of unless you know exactly where they are. Like we talked to Dr. Emma Williams about bittern and how difficult they are to find what's it like working with a cryptic species?
Yeah. I think the problem is that there's a reason that they're hard to find. And so, I used to work on Archey's frog, or pepeketua, and they only come out at night and you want it to be raining because then they are more visible. So you're there at 1:00 in the morning with rain dripping down your face, with your nose inches away from the ground looking for this beautiful pepeketua that's just so camouflaged. Oh, they're adorable.
And so you're always apparently exhausted. It's night time. You want it to be raining. Same with the snails. You want it to be raining. So you're out there again with your face inches from the ground. Just this.
This is the sexy side of conservation.
At them and they're hiding. Yeah. Yeah. So there appears to be this common theme that you all they're out at night. So whether it's Pekapeka bats, trying to find them or it's snails or it's pepeketua, you just apparently always sleep deprived, wet, muddy and somehow crawling around on the ground most of the time. So yeah, good times.
Work in conservation, they said. It could be quite difficult to love these species where they're experiencing them. Some people might think that cryptic species are boring or that they don't matter. Why is that wrong?
Yeah, I think there's a misconception that these animals that are considered cryptic tend to be the ones that don't show a lot of expression. Right? So they don't have big eyes. They're not usually cute. They don't show when they're in pain, they're just expressionless, and that gets translated as boring. Or that they don't feel things. And that, I think, is harder for us to connect to as humans.
So we're more connected to mammals and we're more connected to birds with big eyes. Or we can kind of put a human characteristic on them, you know, like if you think about kiwi, they're monogamous, which means that they will be for life often. And so you have this real attachment to that feeling of romance but again, that element of surprise.
So if you start to dig deeper and to into cryptic species and you sit aside with this preconceived idea that they're boring or that they're not like us. So as an example, if I if I go back to Archey’s pepeketua, Archey’s frog, you wouldn't think about frogs as parents. But in this instance, when they lay eggs, they guard the eggs and they stay with the eggs and they protect it and they don't have a tadpole stage.
So when the babies are born, often they will climb onto the parent. Often that's the father, and then the father will carry them around on their backs.
And take care of them until they're ready to go out into the world. And so there's more than meets the eye, there's more that connects them to who we are as humans than you think. And it's, it's just worth looking.
And we just need to find those hooks in order to, to translate, you know, when it's not a charismatic megafauna. Yeah?
Yeah. So the way this all links together is apathy. [These species] are not getting the attention. So the things that do drive our cryptic species are even threats we don't understand—so that's like hedgehogs, mice, wasps. It's all kind of connected. And so if we got people to care more—especially if things are going wrong—there’d be more pressure to do more.
That makes me think of doing something like invertebrates of the year. We've got Bird of the Year, charismatic megafauna, all the big guys, it's all happening. And that makes me think of pekapeka. You've talked about them winning Bird of the Year, 20/21, very controversial. Tell me your favourite things about the species, these species.
Yeah. So first of all, congratulations to pekapeka for winning Manu of the Year. I was very excited it, but that's the point you're making. So these kind of events, I feel that the profile of pekapeka has just skyrocketed. Everyone's talking about it, paying attention to it. So increasingly with my crusade for cryptic species, is Pekapeka become too popular, then I'm going to have a real conflict of conscience.
And then so I got to have to find a balance there. But [laughs] across the board, if I have to pick a favourite species, then it is the short-tail pekapeka. And there's so many things I can talk about but I think my favourite part about them ,talking about wanting to assign some human characteristics to an animal: I just think there's a lot of romance tied into the courting, the rituals that they have.
So how this works is that you've got these male bats, these male pekapeka, and they get into these--what they call singing roosts. And so most of the time you can't hear pekapeka because they're at a level you can't even perceive. But when they're in these singing roosts and then they start to sing, it is something that you can sit there at nighttime and you can listen to them.
And the whole point of it is that they gather in these clusters to try and impress the females and they sing their hearts out to try and get her attention. So she'll get into these groups and you kind of wonder around and she'll make her assessment and then who ever sings the best gets to have some attention and what I like the most about this, is that the study has shown that the bats that tend to be more successful are the smaller males.
So for those who know me: I am five foot one. So I have an affinity for small things. And so that something I really like is that, they reckon that the smaller males--because maybe they don't have to spend so much energy during the night foraging because they're lighter--that they have more energy they can put into courtship.
So they sing a lot more and therefore are tending to get a lot more females and … so that's probably where the romance ends because they're incredibly promiscuous. So that's a little bit of a bittersweet ending to that story. But then the female after she's mated, if she decides that actually now is not the time that I would like to be pregnant.
she just kind of stores it all in there. So they mate usually, you know, late summer, early autumn, and then nothing happens. Just, you know, all of them hang out, wait until it's springtime. And then collectively they decide, all right, let's get pregnant. And then they go for it. And so what that means is that a lot of the bats in the population will all have their pups within a week of each other.
And then they have these maternity roosts that you could have like thousands of pups sitting in this tree with the mum’s that kick the boys out, get out, “this woman's business”. And then they do this, you know, and they say raising a child takes a village. Well, in this case, it takes a roost tree of bats. And what's even more impressive is that when the mum goes out to forage, she'll come back a couple of times a night to feed her pup.
And there are thousands of babies and she manages to find her one every time. So they're really closely connected. And we think it might be a smell thing, but all of that, I just yeah, it's just super impressive.
Wow, talk about assigning human characteristics to species. So we love them. I have fallen in love with that. I know that we've had also some devastating losses in this area. And perhaps you can tell us about pekapeka in Ohakune.
Yes. So so it is a challenge with pekapeka to get them going in the right direction. So think about this. They are up to thousands of them in a tree and they will hang out there for weeks. And so something I really like is when you walk up to it, you can smell them from quite a distance as this kind of really distinctive.
Are these a bat roost nearby? So if I can smell it, imagine what predators can do.
What does it smell like?
This is kind of musty. You know how people. So kākāpō have this really delightful smell? I would like to argues that that bat guano when sitting for weeks in a roost tree has a very delightful, musky smell. Yeah, it's a hard thing to describe, but I think because I associate it with happiness, you know, you and your happy place when you're out in the field looking for these trees.
And you could have spent hours tracking a bat with a little transmitter on trying to find this tree. And often the first thing you know that you close is when you can smell it. And so it's I think there's just a lot of happy memories associated with the smell. For those who have smelled a bat roost and you think it's not great, don't judge me for this.
But yeah, it does mean it attracts a lot of predators and one of the most traumatic experiences for us is that we tracked them down to a tree. And then when we got to the base of this tree, there were just little wings had been pulled off these bodies and scattered about. And we, we found a couple of bodies, but they were mangled and torn to bits and it was just this really shocking, visible impact that a predator can have.
So the first thing we thought, of course, it’s a stoat, They’re their key predator, we chucked out a trap, 24 hours later we caught a stoat, but the bodies keep piling up. So we finally found one that had some really perfectly spaced bite marks and we sent it away for autopsy. And they came back a few days later and said it’s probably a cat or a ferret based o the size of the bite.
So we put a live cage trap out, and within 24 hours we caught a cat, which was just one of the best days … having to finally see this thing … and no more dead bats after that. We knew we had him and we got him so yeah. So and then all took about a space of a week.
And so from the moment we showed up … to six days later when we caught the cat we, we put all the little wings together and all the little bodies together and that cat managed to kill 102 individuals in one go and that's just one cat. And so we've got footage of stoats doing it and they just sort of wander into the roost, pull out some bats, come out, go back in and that's a real testament of the naivete of our native species, is that they just sit there, they just hang out.
They don't have this response, this defense response that they are supposed to move. But yeah, so ironically, 48 hours they left the roost. So I was like, well, now you move. Good one guys. But I think it shows how vulnerable these populations are. So we had a short-tail population in the Tararua. We knew we only had 300. If you imagine a cat could kill 102 in a week, you know, it doesn't take much or 300 to blink out.
And we fought so hard to protect that population. We got the traps out and it was it's not a nearby--you have to walk for hours to get to it or get in the helicopter. And we fought so hard. And then we had a beach mast, which is where suddenly there's a lot of food in the system, rats start breeding, which provides food for stoats
So they start breeding. And between one year and the next, we went back and then they were gone. And that was probably one of the most heartbreaking experiences. We looked so hard to we kept looking, we kept trying, but we're pretty sure now that there's not even one left that no matter how hard we fought, we lost them.
And so they still pretty vulnerable. Not to be too gloom and doom and gloom, by the way, but with this Ohakune population, we have grown them now and we have recently counted 8000 short-tail Pekapeka coming out of one tree. So in that instance, despite all of the challenges we are winning. So that's very exciting.
That is very exciting. I'm just wondering how big that tree is.
It’s quite large. So I want to touch on something that you mentioned there. Cats are such a hard topic. New Zealand has the highest rate of cat ownership in the world or one of them. I think there's absolutely a way to love your cat but also protect our native species too. And it all comes down to that responsible pet ownership.
What does that look like to you?
Yeah, so that's definitely something that's come to the forefront as we dealt with this cat issue. So for us, if you're only talking about pekapeka, then keeping a cat indoors at night will mean that they don't have the ability to get out and catch pekapeka, and particularly this is more of a long tail pekapeka issue.
So what we find with long tail pekapeka is that they have a little bit more adaptive. They've got the ability to live not only in the forests but in rural properties and even in urban areas. So you might be really surprised to find that you've got pekapeka in your backyard. And the worst way to find that out is when your cat brings one in and we've got a lot of stories doing exactly that.
And, you know, it's an awful feeling. So keeping a cat indoors at night protects pekapeka, but also that's the time when birds, for instance, tend to be a little bit more vulnerable, but more sleepy, easier to catch. So that's one of the first things is keep them up at night. But if you think that your cat will be OK, keep it in all day, because that protects lizards, it protects bats, it protects birds. But I know how hard it is when you've got this pet, this cat that you love so much and you want it to have a good quality life.
You want it to be able to roam and be free. And so that's a really hard part of being a pet owner is trying to balance that desire to do what's good for the environment. But also be a good owner of your pet.
And let them display those natural characteristics and behaviour that they'll display. So if we remove that one threat by everyone doing their best kind of pet ownership would that then give our native species breathing room to manage things like stoats better?
Yeah. I find that for every species is a bit of a tipping point. So it’s like death by a thousand cuts. So you've got stoats chasing you, you've got cats chasing you, possums … in the case of snails, you've also got some thrushes heading your way. For some species, there’s dogs and ferrets trying to get to you. And so it is trying to limit or minimize as many of the threats as we can.
That will then be that tipping point where they'll start to head in the right direction. As an example, for brown kiwi, we found that if we stay on top of stoats, and that's the greatest threat to the little chicks, and that [increases their] chance to get through to be older. And then if we stay on top of dogs and ferrets, and those are the things that will kill the adults, then if we are good at those; then cats wandering in to grab the odd chick here or there doesn't matter as much, or when they get hit by cars.
And so it's just trying to find that balance, right? So in this example, we've got pekapeka or birds in the garden or lizards hiding in the wood pile, all trying their best to survive a million different things [that are] trying to kill them. And so if we just pull one of those things out of the system or we reduce the impact, then the chances of that animal being able to get a baby through or to survive for another year is just that much higher, really.
So yeah, I just think it's our responsibility to make life that is already hard out there, just a little bit easier to do.
Jess do you have something that you tell newbies of conservation to get them hooked? What’s your inspiring kind of story?
When it comes to getting people enthusiastic about conservation … I don't know if I have a specific story that I tell, in that it is more to get people to understand, I guess, the connection that we all have with nature. And so what it tends to be is about getting out into the forest -- or whether it's at the beach and listening to the ocean, or anywhere where you feel that connection to the ngahere or to the to the earth-- and just sitting and being quiet.
And I think there's a whole world out there, which I've kind of touched on, when you think about the idea of cryptic species that there's so much life happening out there and we're just not aware of it because they're either operating at a frequency that we can't hear or they're hiding from us. And so just to get people out in nature and not just to go for a walk or do exercise, but to sit and be quiet and to listen and to connect.
That's something that I, I feel really passionately about. A lot of our lives are so busy now. And I feel like, wellbeing and mental wellness is such a big thing that we all struggle when we're busy and we're anxious. And we’re stressed. And I have found that there's nothing better than just proactively going and being quiet and see how that makes you feel.
And I can tell you it's going to make you feel a lot better.
How can a person start levelling up their cryptic species knowledge? After this podcast, everyone's going to want to.
OK, I have a game changer and I am basically now giving away my trade secrets because this is the one tool that makes me look like I know what I'm talking about and it is called Google Lens. Lens is spelled l e n s, no e. And you download this app, you can take a photo of anything so it's particularly good for fungi and invertebrates.
And you take a photo and Google Lens just sifts through the entire Internet and then whatever algorithm they use, it spits out what they think is the most likely answer to whatever this cryptic thing is. You've just taken a blurry photo of not only will it tell you what it is you kind of have, I mean, I would say nine times out of ten, it seems to get it, but not only do you see what it is
You also at your fingertips get all of this information about this particular species and so when people ring me up and they're like, oh, we've seen the spider, here's a photo of it, what do you think it is? If I can just keep them busy for long enough while I quickly Google Lens it, I can speak with quite a lot of confidence in my expertise knowledge about this particular species, and they are amazed! And now this is a gift I'm giving to you.
Download Google Lens! Now get outside and start taking some photos and be prepared to have your mind blown.
I am so grateful for that gift. That sounds like a version of iNaturalist on steroids, doesn't it?
Yeah. Oh iNaturalist, that's one of my favourite websites to go on! So armed with your Google Lens, you take a photo once you're confident you know what it is or you don't even have to be that confident you can upload it onto this website called iNaturalist and anyone can load anything and it's like you're connected to this global community of people observing things and nature and sharing them with you, and you get to see what others have seen.
So you can go to a location for instance, and like, “Oh, what can I see at this location?” Or you can see where others have seen a particular species. And then if you're unsure about what it is, you've got this group of experts (that may not need Google Lens) to be able to confirm to you what that species is.
So it's a great way to learn. It's a great way to be part of the community of people out there connecting with nature, and it's a great way for others to learn as well. From the things that you're seeing. So I highly recommend.
Jess, this has been absolutely incredible. I've learned so much. I love the stuff about bat singing roosts, all of that. I've fallen in love with that cryptic species, and I bet the rest of Aotearoa will have as well. Thank you so much for coming on the show.
Thank you for having me.
Thank you for listening, I’m your host Erica Wilkinson and this has been the DOC Sounds of Science Podcast. This show is available wherever you get your podcasts, or you can stream it off our website, doc.govt.nz. This podcast is produced by Jayne Ramage with sound and editing by Laura Honey. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave us a review and show our hard-working guests some love. Ka kite.
Episode 17: Shark talk
Renowned shark expert Clinton Duffy shares niche knowledge and on-the-job stories.
Sharks have a little bit of a PR problem. They’re fascinating, intelligent creatures, and most of them mind their own business. But they are predators, and the more you know, the better prepared you are.
This episode has it all. Sharks that walk on land (we’re not making this up), a run through of shark reproduction which is so amazing and varied it could have come from a sci-fi writer’s brain, and an update on our work to monitor shark species in an area as complex and vast as the ocean. All this, and Clinton shares some of his shark encounter stories with us.
- The sound effect in this episode is waves crashing onshore
- The music used is Let’s Get Down to Business by Cast of Characters
Te reo Māori translation:
Kia ora! Ko Erica Wilkinson tēnei. He kōnae ipurangi tēnei, e pā ana ki ngā Sounds of Science. (Hi! My name is Erica Wilkinson and this is a podcast about Sounds of Science).
[SOUND FX - TBC]
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[ERICA]: Kia ora, I'm Erica Wilkinson, New Zealand's acting Threatened Species Ambassador, and this is the DOC "Sounds of Science" podcast.
[ERICA]: Every episode, we talk about work being done behind the scenes by DOC's technical experts, scientists, rangers, and the experts in between.
Kia ora! Ko Erica Wilkinson tēnei. He kōnae ipurangi tēnei, e pā ana ki ngā Sounds of Science.
00:00:35:02 - 00:00:39:22
Today, we're talking to renowned shark expert Clinton Duffy, haere mai Clinton.
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Kia ora Erica, ko Clinton Duffy ahau. I am a Technical Advisor, Marine species for the Department of Conservation based in Auckland.
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Thank you so much for talking to us. Now, Clinton, we've never met in person, but I've called you a lot for your expertise on various marine species because you've got years of experience in the marine environment. Clinton is the person that you go to for anything on Chondrichthyan fishes.
00:01:04:09 - 00:01:19:19
So sharks, rays, chimaeras, and he's got years of experience in marine ecology, habitat surveying, new species identification and designing protected areas. He's even got his own Wikipedia page, which I'm not sure if he keeps updated, but clearly a fan does.
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He's been all around Aotearoa doing this work right up to the Kermadecs, right down to Rakiura. Now he's in beautiful Tāmaki Makaurau, where he's calling us from. It's great to have you here.
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Kia ora Erica.
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So Clinton, tell me upfront, what is your job?
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Well, my job is primarily providing advice on protected fishes and turtles. Occasionally, I get to do some research, some hands on research on sharks and rays.
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I bet that's the coolest job any party that you're at. How did you get to where you are?
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I grew up in in Masterton, in the in the Wairarapa, and we spent our Christmas holidays and virtually every school holidays at the beach. And when I was a very small boy, I saw people catching sharks off the beach and I go up there and say, 'Oh, that's a shark' and I'd to be told, 'oh no, we don't get sharks in New Zealand, that's a lemon fish'. And then one day I was out in the boat with my father and we had a big bronze whaler, swim pass the boat, and I was pretty much hooked on them ever since.
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So I grew up watching Jacques Cousteau and Ron and Valerie Taylor and Ben Cropp TV shows and yeah, waiting for the day that I could finally see a live one myself.
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What a first experience of the bronze whaler. So, so tell me about New Zealand. Do we have sharks here?
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Oh, we certainly do. And you know, some of them are actually called lemon fish, but we have about 113 sharks and rays, depending on, you know, what the taxonomists say at any given point. Can't always make up our minds, what to call them. And and about half of those around, you know, 66 species are sharks.
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And do we see them often?
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Oh, it depends where you are, but yes, they're more commonly seen during spring and summer, when some species move close to shore, various species of shark can be seen around the New Zealand coastline at almost any time of the year.
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- And are they threatened?
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Some are. New Zealand's shark populations are managed, you know, probably better than many in the world. That was a result of a recent IUCN red list assessment that we did, and we came out looking reasonably good. But we've got a couple that are possibly near threatened and a couple - the great white shark and the basking shark that actually fall into the threatened categories. Both of those, the great white shark in particular falls into endangered because it's got a naturally very small population size.
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I see. So, I mean, now that we're there, can we please talk about the magnificent, mysterious, misunderstood, maybe Carcharodon carcharias?
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Well, I mean, an impressive fish by any stretch. You know, you see, hard bitten fishermen that don't get excited about anything, getting pretty excited when they have a great white shark swim pass the boat, even a small one. We estimate there's about 750 adults in the New Zealand population, and that's shared between New Zealand and the East Coast of Australia. The west Western Australian population is different and quite isolated from the New Zealand East Coast population. They're born at around about a meter to a meter and a half long. They weigh about 20 kilos at birth, and the females can get up to at least seven meters long and well over two and a half tonnes fully grown.
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Amazing. And you've been doing data on them since 1990. What kind of thing is that telling you?
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Well, first thing that it told me was that they're found all around New Zealand. It's a bit of a myth that they're most common in the southern South Island and at Stewart Island, places like that, you can count the great white sharks almost anywhere within the New Zealand waters.
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You tend to get smaller ones around the Upper North Island, bigger ones further south, but you know you can occasionally get tiny, tiny, great white sharks, you know, turning up in the sub Antarctic’s as well as the really big ones.
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Cool, and you get to - I say get to - dissect one or two a year, but do you often see them? Do you get out in the field and see them alive?
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I worked on them for ten years in the field and we generally got out in February, March visited places like Stewart Island in the Chatham Islands, the east coast of Gisborne, Manukau, Kaipara Harbour, places like that, and we saw them fairly regularly, probably seen several hundred of them now.
00:05:57:21 - 00:06:06:20
And there are so many photo credits online, 'Clinton Duffy', and it's this close up of a great white. How do you get those photos? Is that a GoPro on the water or are you in there?
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We started out working out of the cages at the Chatham Islands. It was really quite impractical. We learned fairly soon that we could recognize all the individuals and every individual that came to the boat by the colour patterns.
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You know, we initially thought we'd film them from the cages and that would be a great way to do it. But it wasn't because you can't see them coming up behind, you know, behind the cage or whatnot. So we we swapped to pole cameras from the boat, so we'd stand on the duck board at the back of
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the boat. We'd have a person on each side of the boat telling us where the sharks were and that way we could pretty much photo identify any shark that came to the boat that day, provided we could get them close enough.
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And that's often the trick.
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Wow. Identify any as in the ones that you tagged or which species it was.
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Oh no. Identify which individual great white shark it was so Ella or Miranda or Phred or, you know.
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Phred the great white shark. That's amazing.
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Well, there are too many sharks called Bruce.
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Ha, and they've been protected since 2007. Have you seen a noticeable difference sincethen, since you've been doing that research?
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Not really. We did a genetic mark recapture population estimate with scientists from CSIRO back in 2017/2018, and that suggested the population's been pretty much stable for the previous decade. Maybe in slight decline. So, yeah, we don't actually have any evidence of of an increase in the number of sharks and the numbers that we saw at
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Stewart Island were fairly consistent most years.
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- And you also, you're doing basking shark research.
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Well, yes, the basking sharks in the southern hemisphere are sort of the holy grail at the moment, really, New Zealand was the... "was" the southern hemisphere hotspot for basking sharks. And they are a real mystery. We know virtually nothing about them.
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And the best way to study them would be to satellite.
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But of course, as soon as we got funding to do that, they disappeared.
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It's really inconsiderate
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Very, very. They used to aggregate in places like the Pegasus Bay and the South Canterbury Bight. They were seen off northern Stewart Island and in Otago fairly regularly, up until about the mid-2000s. And then they just suddenly disappeared.
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And we don't really know why that is. They have a reputation for doing this in the northern hemisphere. So, for example, around the British Isles, they disappeared from many of their hotspots for 20/30 years and then suddenly just reappeared.
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So we don't really know why that happens. Satellite tagging Northern Hemisphere has shown that they're capable of crossing the equator, and they do that by swimming really deep, deep below the warm tropical water and popping up on the other side.
00:09:06:22 - 00:09:12:04
So it's possible the population shifts around the globe. But we just don't know.
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Do you have any guesses as to what it is, the temperature of the water or anything or nothing's quite...
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We don't have any guesses, really. It's all speculation. We know that climate change could affect the distribution of plankton, which they feed on. And so they feed on tiny crustaceans in the plankton, and they'll be very sensitive to changes in the distribution of currents and water temperatures and things like that.
00:09:41:13 - 00:09:54:17
So that could be affecting them and they may have just sort of moved off somewhere else. We know they also occur in Chile. They are occasionally seen in South Australia, but it's possible they have gone to the northern hemisphere.
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It's possible they're shifted to the North Pacific or maybe the Atlantic.
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Wow. And do they have natural predators - do basking sharks, and all sharks actually? Do they have natural predators?
00:10:05:13 - 00:10:23:00
Well the only evidence we have of predation, natural predation, on basking sharks is sort of they occasionally turn up in the stomach contents of great white sharks. I should say bits of them turn up - obviously bit too big a meal for a great white...
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Killer whales are probably predators of them, and that goes for great white sharks as well. Killer whales actually feed on quite a number of different species of shark.
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So are great white's not an apex predator?
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They are close to the top of the food chain. But yeah, I think killer whales really sit at the very top.
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And let's talk about the unnatural predators that sharks have.
00:10:46:22 - 00:11:30:13
Oh the unnatural predators that sharks have? Well, the biggest one, obviously, are human beings. It's been estimated that more than 100 million sharks are caught annually in commercial and sort of artisanal fisheries globally. That figures quite out of date these days, and no one's come up with a better one yet. But it's certainly in the in the tens of millions of sharks that get caught by humans every year and wherever you look. Humans are the major pressure on sharks, and it's not just fishing, it's in many countries, it's also habitat loss. In the tropics there are quite a number of freshwater sharks and rays.
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Right. And and New Zealand has the Māui and Hector Threat Management Plan helped, or do you think it will help that expansion?
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Well although those plans aren't really intended, you know, to protect sharks, the restrictions on set netting in particular and also potentially trawling in some of them, you know, some of the areas are close to trawling within two nautical miles of the coast. All of those sorts of measures certainly do help sharks, and great whites and basking sharks would be the two of the species that would probably benefit the most.
00:12:05:10 - 00:12:12:23
Can we talk about shark reproduction? I understand it's extremely varied and sometimes not so kind. Can you tell us about it?
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Yeah I mean, sharks have, you know, have experimented with virtually every form of reproduction that is known to the vertebrate animals. One of the simplest forms of shark reproduction involves egg laying – and that's a relatively small number of sharks laying eggs.
Most of the skates lay eggs, but the stingrays and majority of sharks give birth to live young. And you know, it's not just one form of reproduction there. It starts off with things like dog fishes, which retain the eggs inside the female, and the eggs actually hatch inside the female and then the young live off the yolk sac, to otherwise where they they hatch out inside the uterus. And the mother produces a material called uterine milk, which the embryo drinks.
And then in extreme cases the females produce eggs, which the developing embryos eat throughout their development.
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And then at a very, very far end of that extreme, the two largest embryos in the uterus, eat all the siblings, so that in those species – and it's a very small number – it's really mainly the the grey nurse shark and the deep-water nurse shark. The female only gives birth to a maximum of two young at a time because sharks, female sharks, have two uteri, so one on each side of the body.
And then then you move up the ladder to things like the the whaler sharks. They have a placenta, so the developing embryo has the placenta, just like a mammalian one. It's derived from different tissues, but it's very, very similar to a mammalian placenta.
00:14:01:03 - 00:14:07:15
Amazing. And is it true that in great whites, they need to swim away from the mother as soon as they come out?
00:14:08:01 - 00:14:49:04
So it's thought in most species of sharks that females stop feeding while they're giving birth so they don't inadvertently eat their young. Females tend to return to the samearea that they were born in to give birth. And then they leave those areas as well, so those areas may become sort of habitually used nursery areas. Some sharks actually breed over a very large area, but many use these habitual nursery areas that they return to every two or three years to give birth and then a they leave them and that provides an extra layer of protection for the developing young. So you don't have large adult sharks mooching around that may eat you.
00:14:49:09 - 00:14:58:21
Always a good thing to have when you're being born. So, you're the go to when we see sharks, your phone is one of the first to ring. I have to ask, do you have a shark phone?
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No, I just have a standard DOC phone.
00:15:01:22 - 00:15:12:00
That's fine, and you get loads of questions over the summer. The main one people always ask is, are there more sharks than usual this season? Is that right?
00:15:13:12 - 00:15:32:01
Yeah. Well, globally, it's pretty much true to say that there are less sharks than usual every year because sharks are so heavily fished and they're in danger. Many species are endangered throughout the world. In New Zealand, most of our shark fisheries seem to be doing fairly well, and the populations are considered to be stable.
00:15:32:02 - 00:16:16:00
Very few are considered to be increasing. So pretty much every year we see the same number of sharks in shore that we saw the previous year. The exception can be in exceptionally warm years when we may get a few extra tropical visitors.
Some of the rarer tropical vagrant species like oceanic white tips and tiger sharks and dusky sharks and things like that. We may see one or two of those, but overall numbers are generally pretty stable between years. You can get some parts of the populations shifting into areas where there’s a bit more food than usual, so you can get these local shifts in abundance, but overall pretty much the same number of sharks every year.
00:16:17:12 - 00:16:20:11
OK, so you see Phred going past Phred the great white shark.
00:16:21:06 - 00:16:23:05
You wouldn't miss him. He's pretty big.
00:16:25:17 - 00:16:31:19
Cool! It sounds like there are so many to choose from. Do you have a best day at work ever that you keep going back to?
00:16:33:05 - 00:17:29:23
Oh, I think my best in the office was last summer, actually north of Hauturu, Little Barrier, and it was late. Late in the afternoon, almost all the other boats on the water had left, the sea had become glassy calm, and we were out looking for manta rays.
And not many people know that we have manta rays in New Zealand, but oceanic manta rays visit here every year and probably resident for a large part of the year, and we'd seen a few that day and then just before we left, we noticed a little bit of a disturbance on the surface and some birds circling and we went over and a very large manta ray sort of broke the surface right in front of the boat and then, while we just sat there in the boat with a motor off, we looked around and there were manta rays breaking the surface everywhere as far as we could see.
It's one of those moments you got to sort of, you know, blink your eyes and slap yourself and go ‘am I actually in New Zealand?’
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Oh that is so cool, cos-
00:17:31:13 - 00:17:34:04
It was pretty cool. Yeah.
00:17:34:22 - 00:17:40:12
Wow. Because it hasn't been known for a long time, has it, about manta rays aggregating there.
00:17:41:00 - 00:18:04:00
Ah well, mana whenua have known about manta rays for a long, long time. And in one of the names for Hauturu actually means manta ray. So they've clearly been coming to New Zealand for thousands, probably millions of years. In fact, they're probably be better considered to be resident in New Zealand and just visit other places.
00:18:04:00 – 00:18:06:00
Ok… my gosh-
00:18:06:00 - 00:18:33:22
And that's one of the questions we're trying to get at, with the manta rays we're trying to figure out, you know, is it a resident New Zealand population? It seems to be, but we’re starting to look now. We've heard that the first manta rays have been sighted again this summer and we’ll be working with Conservation International and the New Zealand Manta Trust, to try and get more photo IDs of the animals and possibly get a few tags out on them as well.
00:18:34:16 - 00:18:50:09
Awesome. So, yeah, your work stories don't often involve the printer breaking, I can imagine, but you must have some pretty unexpected - what others would say - are odd days at work. Can you can you think of any that stand out there?
00:18:51:05 - 00:18:57:07
I once had a stingray try to have a Jacuzzi on top of my head when I was scuba diving at the Poor Knights.
00:18:58:04 - 00:18:59:05
Of course you did.
00:18:59:07 - 00:19:17:18
All the lights went out. It got very dark and when I looked up there was a big stingray just sitting draped, pretty much draped over the bubbles from the first stage of my scuba. So it was having a lovely time. I actually had to look up and then poke in the belly to get it, to move off of it. Yeah.
00:19:19:03 - 00:19:22:21
Wow. And and I feel like there's a black grouper story?
00:19:23:16 - 00:20:50:10
Oh yes, that was at the Kermadecs back in, I think it was 2004. I was up doing my first trip to the Kermadecs and swimming along, enjoying the grouper, and we had a couple of small, Galapagos sharks following us around. And we came around the corner, and here's this big black spotted black grouper and I say black because they can be very pale as well, and they can change the colour in an instant. This guy was particularly black. He was all black and looking fairly grumpy on it… and I was all black, I had a black wetsuit, black tank and black fins, and he came straight up to me, right up to my face and started flaring out his petrol fins and opening his mouth and raising his dorsal fin and I thought, ‘Oh he’s being friendly’ and then he would zip behind me and then pop back around in front of me and zip behind me and pop back in front… and in the end he really flared out of his mouth and gill covers and I thought, ‘ah, I know what you're doing, you're threatening me. You're telling me to get out of your territory.’
And I took the hint and and moved on. But it wasn't till after the dive that I was told that he was actually zipping behind me and biting my fins trying to move me off in a hurry.
I should have gone white and been, you know, play, you know, and submissive, but I couldn't change colour like he did.
00:20:50:24 - 00:20:57:09
No… [you] gotta go fashion conscious in the water like that. I didn't know they could change colour at will. Is that, can they just go any colour?
00:20:58:01 - 00:21:16:22
They change from this jet black coloration to this black and white coloration where they've got very prominent oblique white lines along the side of the body, and at times they can go almost pure white and it happens in the blink of an eye as you look at it.
00:21:18:07 - 00:21:24:13
So much camouflage in the water, because great whites are double camouflage as well, aren't they?
Tell me about that.
00:21:25:10 - 00:21:38:06
Most sharks and most pelagic fish are counter shaded, so they're dark on the top and pale on the belly and that's a form of camouflage, where the pale belly reflects about the same amount of light as the upper part of the body.
00:21:38:08 - 00:21:47:22
So the animals only have to be a short distance away from you and they just blend, merge into the background and become incredibly difficult to see.
00:21:49:04 - 00:21:56:10
Amazing. There are so many variables in conservation work. Have you had times in the field where everything's gone wrong?
00:21:56:20 - 00:22:00:20
Oh yeah. Sharks! As soon as you-
00:22:00:20 - 00:22:01:14
They don't do what you want!
00:22:01:21 - 00:22:47:19
No. As soon as you decide you want to study, study them, they disappear and become incredibly difficult to find, all of a sudden. Basking sharks are the worst example of that for me. I mean, the entire population disappeared in the mid-2000s, as soon as we got some funding to work on them. Bit embarrassing to lose a 12.2-metre-long fish.
But yes, I mean, one year we went to the Chatham Islands, the year after a very successful first field season at the Chatham Islands, where we had sharks lining up at the boat to be tagged and photo I.D. We went back there the next year and we were spent three weeks there and we saw only saw two or three sharks and they wouldn't come anywhere near the boat.
00:22:47:20 - 00:22:48:00
00:22:48:01 – 00:22:58:00
We had a National Geographic film crew there, absolutely, you know, going spare and looking at us is if we didn't know what we were talking about.
00:22:58:06 - 00:23:00:00
Oh no… And they're just not reliable.
00:23:00:01 - 00:23: 23:05
They're just not reliable. And we found out in the end that people had been catching them in the lead up to to their protection, taking effect, and they’d become incredibly wary of boats. And you know, the few sharks that we saw approached the boats underwater and then they would roll over on their side and look at the boat and go ‘nup, we're not sticking around here’.
00:23:23:17 - 00:23:31:15
Oh, so clever. Such clever techniques. So if people aren't dicks, then we might get to see more marine species.
00:23:32:12 - 00:24:07:24
Well, during lockdown, people have got lots and lots of stories of of all sorts of marine life, including sharks and rays coming much closer to the beaches and hanging out, hanging out more in shallow water. Also, aware there’s some research that was done at University of Auckland, where they found that eagle rays, for example, were much more abundant in, and or tended to be more abundant in the quieter harbours than the harbours that had boat ramps and marinas that were regularly used by powered vessels and it's just simply that the level of disturbance, you know, drives quite a lot of these species away from the shore.
00:24:09:06 - 00:24:18:10
Mmm, this seems so obvious when you say it like that. And has your attitude to sharks changed since you began working with them? Or have you just loved them forever?
00:24:19:20 - 00:25:48:09
Yeah, I've pretty much loved them forever. As long as I can think. I certainly had a real healthy respect for them from an early age because all you ever came across was shark attack stories. And so I started spear fishing when I was about twelve years old, and the first thing I wanted to do was learn more about great white sharks to avoid becoming a statistic. And you know, I found that the more you find out about the sharks, the less of a, you know, monster, the less, you know, mystifying they are. They’re absolutely beautiful animals.
Great. Great to see underwater. And I go out of my way these days to find sharks underwater. Not necessarily great whites. I still have a very, very healthy respect for them. But you know, I know that, you know, not every great white is going to bite you on sight.
One of the things we noticed working on them, was they’re a very circumspect animal, the large great whites are pretty cautious creatures around boats and you know, they seem to have an individual personality, if you like. They all behave slightly differently and some of them you can even recognize by their behaviours. So they're much more complex animals than most people give them credit for. Yeah. And it's, you know, that's been borne out by research on brain size and behaviour and things like that.
00:25:49:19 - 00:25:59:20
Wow. And you're right that the word shark has such negative connotations, unfortunately. What do you think's the biggest misconception that people have about sharks?
00:26:00:03 - 00:26:02:24
Oh, they all look like a great white shark.
00:26:04:13 - 00:26:52:23
There's well over 400 species of sharks globally, and you know, they range in size from things that are fully grown at about ten or twelve centimetres long to whale sharks that, you know, get to 18 meters long.
And the next one is that any shark you see is going to bite you. Most sharks have no interest in human beings. Most sharks are actually more scared of you than you are of them. As a general rule of thumb, if you don't know what sort of shark you're looking at, you should treat any shark over 1.8 metres long as being potentially dangerous. But even the only potentially dangerous just because any wild animal that size is a powerful animal, and if you harm it, or do something to it, it could potentially hurt you.
00:26:54:04 - 00:27:06:08
- And with the negative outlook, would you say the media don't really help the- I read something the other day that said the ‘Taranaki Terror’ and I thought, that's not fair…
00:27:06:18 - 00:27:09:14
I was lucky enough to see the Taranaki Terror.
00:27:09:17 - 00:27:12:07
Did you rename it, Bruce or Phred or something?
00:27:12:11 - 00:27:49:08
No, no. We called her Mrs White. She has a very large great white shark, probably close to six meters long. I saw her breech one day off New Plymouth from about half a kilometre away, and she looked absolutely enormous.
But yeah, it's true. The media likes to sensationalize sharks, and I think even though there's, there are more many more positive stories about sharks and shark conservation in the media these days. They still inevitably play up the sensational side of of shark behaviour, shark human interactions.
00:27:49:23 - 00:27:57:17
So I've heard before Clinton that sharks use their mouth as their main sensor, and that their eyesight’s not so good. Are the myths, are they true…
00:27:58:07 - 00:29:26:07
It's complete myth. All sharks have multiple, you know, very, very highly attuned senses. So most sharks have very good vision, very good eyesight. Very good at- they have very good, you know, nocturnal sight, so they're very good at picking up silhouettes.
They don't really see colour, but they do respond to highly contrasting objects and shiny objects. Obviously, those are things that will attract their attention. They have a very good sense of smell, of course, renowned for being bloodhounds of the oceans.
They have a very sensitive lateral line system. So that's a system of canals containing little sensory cells that runs along their body and around their head so they can detect vibrations in the water. They have a well-developed electro-sense, and so all those jelly filled pores you can see under the snout of a shark or a ray, they're extremely sensitive electro receptors, and they're sensitive enough to detect the muscle, you know, the nervous impulses that make muscles move. So like the muscles on the fish's gills or the heart beating things like that. So, yeah, they have a number of sensory modalities that they can use when they're investigating an object. And yeah, I mean, one step is to bite and see what it tastes like as well.
00:29:27:04 - 00:29:32:16
You've talked a bit about how sharks are intelligent. Can you tell me a bit more or give me an example there?
00:29:32:16 - 00:31:26:02
Well some sharks are very intelligent, for a fish, obviously, and others have fairly small brains. You know, things like dog fishes and whatnot. You know they’re probably very similar to a goldfish. But sharks at the other end of the evolutionary scale, are fairly intelligent and you see lots of examples of that.
If you spend time in the water with them, I sort of mentioned that great white sharks are pretty circumspect around boats, and they'll often check them out and spend a lot of time checking out a boat before taking a bait. They also learn, most of the larger active pelagic sharks will learn very quickly.
In fact, most fish are capable of learning very quickly. Many of the shark feeds that you see in the tropics, the ecotourism operations that operate shark feeds for divers there, they started off just by people noticing that every time they went out to dump, you know, the organic waste from a from a hotel or offal from the fish processing factory. The sharks were already there waiting for them. And it's pretty pretty obvious that these fish feeds or these shark feeds, that the sharks know the time of the day and the day of the week, that it's going to happen, though, and they're already there waiting.
And if you think about how a predator survives, if you can't find food, if you can't remember where to find food and the time of the year to find it, you're not going to be very good as a predator.
So, yeah, sharks are capable of learning, and I've even read suggestions that they're capable of social learning, so they're able to able to see something happen to another shark and go, I'm not going to do that or, yeah, that shark on feed and so it's obviously a safe place to feed.
00:31:26:17 - 00:31:29:20
OK, what's your favourite nature fact? Do you have one.
00:31:30:23 - 00:32:10:01
Hmm, favourite nature fact? There's several species of sharks that live in northern Australia and Indonesia that walk. And they're capable of climbing out of a rock pool and walking on all- using their fins as legs, so their pectoral fins and their pelvic fins are modified so they can move them backwards and forwards like legs.
And they can climb up out of a rock pool and crawl across the reef to the next rock pool. They're called epaulet sharks. And, yeah, beautiful little things. And and it's really crazy seeing them walk around.
00:32:10:09 - 00:32:11:10
Have you? Have you seen it?
00:32:11:21 - 00:32:23:20
I've only seen them in aquariums and I've seen footage of them doing that. But yeah, it is. It is amazing to see a fish walking like that. They'll be on land before we know it.
00:32:25:15 - 00:32:28:20
That's right. I wonder why they're doing it, I guess, for food to follow the food?
00:32:28:23 - 00:33:04:22
Oh yeah. I mean, these little little things, they live in tiny creeks and they're quite a cryptic animals, they live in narrow cracks between coral, and you know they've got long, slender bodies and these fins adapted for walking and crawling through these narrow spaces where they wouldn't necessarily be able to swim. You know, and at low tide, they can get trapped in pools so that's, so it makes sense for them to be able to get out of water. They essentially get out of the pool, hold their breath, hold a mouthful of water and then crawl across to the next pool.
00:33:05:14 - 00:33:15:24
I'd love to see that, that's now- great white shark and that is on my bucket list. You’ve been in conservation a long time. Can you tell me about a game changing research discovery that you've been a part of?
00:33:17:05 - 00:33:33:16
I guess the biggest one I've been involved in has been a satellite tagging that I've been involved with Malcolm Francis from NIWA and Roman Bonneville from the Wildlife Conservation Society. And we started tagging great white sharks in New Zealand for the first time.
00:33:33:17 - 00:33:47:12
We had some fairly, what we thought were fairly well based expectations on what we’d see for those animals. We expected to see quite a bit of movement between the aggregation sites at Stewart Island and the Chatham Islands, and mainland New Zealand.
00:33:48:06 - 00:34:27:03
We expected to see sharks going to Australia, that sort of thing. What we found was quite different. The sharks do go to Australia, but often they go to Australia via the other islands in the south-west pacific, islands like Tonga, Fiji, Niue, New Caledonia, and they clearly knew where they were going, they were very directed movements. They swam in straight lines and they swam at the surface for prolonged periods of time, often covering more than 100 kilometres a day on these trips. So it was only taking them, you know, 22 to 25 days to do about 3000 kilometres.
00:34:27:20 - 00:35:16:12
And then they would spend, you know, five to six months away from New Zealand up there and then they would start returning, some of them often coming back exactly the same way they left and others would come down the east coast of Australia and then back to New Zealand that way. It's completely changed our understanding of of how they behave in New Zealand and the other real stand out was we saw no movement and we still have seen no movement between the Chatham Islands aggregation site and the Stewart Islands aggregation site.
So there's more movement, you know, there's quite a lot of movement between the Chatham Islands and North East North Island and white sharks and the Chatham’s passing by there, quite regularly, often a long way offshore, but as yet, we haven't seen any direct exchange between sites within New Zealand. So that's a real mystery.
00:35:17:04 - 00:35:22:18
Do you have anything that you think of as a real proud moment of conservation achievement?
00:35:25:04 - 00:35:45:13
Well, I've been involved in the protection of of a number of species and getting, seeing manta ray’s protected and species like giant grouper and deep-water nurse shark protected, they were really proud moments and it's also hard to go past the work that we've done on white sharks.
00:35:45:24 - 00:35:58:20
And yeah, they've gone from being one of the probably the poorest known species of shark in New Zealand waters to one of the best known species, one of the ones we know the most about.
00:36:00:10 - 00:36:50:14
But another moment that stands out is, I was lucky enough to work with Peter Last in re describing the northern spiny dogfish. This, you know, innocuous little, little fish. It was thought to be part of a globally distributed species, and we looked at it as part of the New Zealand Threat Classification System, and we dug into its taxonomy and were able to recognize it's a unique species, its an endemic species. We were able to re-describe it and give it back its original, scientific name. And so it's a real New Zealand shark. We have a number of endemic species of sharks. You know, most of the shark you get your fish and chips is the endemic rig or spotted dog fish. But yeah, it was really nice to give a fish its name back.
00:36:50:14 - 00:36:54:17
…boycott fish and chip shop, is that what we’re supposed to do..?
00:36:55:05 - 00:37:04:07
No, no. I would never boycott fish and chips… as long as [laughing] as long as they're sustainably harvested, there's no threat to the species.
00:37:06:00 - 00:37:09:06
What do people need to know when they're out swimming this summer?
00:37:10:15 - 00:37:27:02
Um they should be aware that there's potentially sharks visiting or hanging out at the beach that they're going to. It's very common to see bronze whalers, for example, and baby hammerhead sharks just off the- offshore, especially along the North East North Island.
00:37:28:16 - 00:37:41:06
But the thing you need to bear in the back of your mind, that those species present well virtually no risk to people at all, that they’re there to feed on fish and during the daytime, they're just generally hanging out.
00:37:41:06 - 00:38:47:24
They're not that interested in feeding. Bronze whalers can get aggressive towards people, but that's generally spear fishermen. So when you've got blood and struggling, struggling fish in the water, that will trigger the, you know, that's a feeding stimulus for the bronze whalers, and they can behave very aggressively towards fisherman, try to drive them away from the fish that they've speared so they can steal them. So it's like, you know, it's like a dog or something becoming a very territorial about its food.
We get the occasionally dangerous species like great whites and tiger sharks cruising along the beaches as well. So the general rule of thumb is if you don't know what you're looking at, if you don't know what species of shark it is, you just get out of the water as quickly and quietly as you can. You know, whereas I'd probably be running past you to get into the water and go swim with it. The sensible thing is, if you don't know what you're looking at, if you don't know if it's a dangerous shark or a harmless species, just get out of the water.
00:38:48:16 - 00:38:53:08
Because it's an environment that we need to respect them. It's their territory, really. And we're kind of-
00:38:54:01 - 00:39:00:22
Yeah, sharks do live in the ocean. Yeah, as surprising as that may seem to a lot of people, that’s their home-
00:39:03:08 - 00:39:08:00
Stop press! [laughing] And how would you like to see our relationship with sharks progress in the next ten years?
00:39:08:23 - 00:39:53:15
Oh, well, it's really, really happy to say that since I first started studying sharks, human attitudes towards sharks almost done a complete 360. They used to be vilified and persecuted and just killed for being a shark. I started, when I started sampling some of the fishing competitions, in the mid-eighties, around 1986 I was at a fishing competition with over 200 sharks killed over three days. Most of them didn't even make minimum qualifying weight for the competition. They were just killed and pulled out as to be exhibited as another dead shark. And that'sa good thing – that has completely changed in the last 30 or 40 years.
00:39:53:16 - 00:40:11:04
And you will not see that at a fishing competition anywhere in New Zealand anymore. So people's attitudes have really changed. In fact, a lot of people think that all species of sharks are protected and are really surprised to find out that it's only only a handful actually have full protection.
00:40:11:08 - 00:40:25:21
I guess from now on, I’d really like to see people start thinking about the affects they’re having on sharks habitat, the places the sharks live, you know, coastal development and pollution affect the coastal shark habitats, particularly this nursery areas, quite badly.
00:40:27:05 - 00:40:32:02
We just need to start thinking about how we're affecting the ocean as a whole.
00:40:32:12 - 00:40:50:19
Absolutely. Clinton, thank you so much for coming on this, this was so interesting to learn about. I feel like we know a lot more about how to leave sharks be, in the water. It should be really only you that goes towards them and you go and swim with them.
00:40:50:22 - 00:41:04:00
We'll leave that to you this summer. I love how much we've learned about how intelligent they are, and I feel like we're going to learn lots more in the future. There's still so much to go, but yeah, thank you so much for coming on.
00:41:04:19 - 00:41:06:21
You're welcome. Thank you very much for the opportunity.
00:41:08:20 - 00:41:19:06
That's all for this episode. If you like what you heard, show us some love with a five-star rating. The DOC "Sounds a Science" podcast is available wherever you get your podcasts, so subscribe now, and never miss an episode.
[MUSIC PLAYS OUT]
[SOUND FX - TBC]
Episode 16: Learning on the Job
There aren’t many jobs with us that Jack hasn’t turned his hand to. Remote island ranger, species monitor, trapper, hunter, ranger trainer, systems designer, operations manager – you name it, Jack has probably done it. He’s deeply passionate about conservation and has accumulated a lot of great stories.
In this episode Jack shares stories about powelliphanta, kōkako, Tūturuatu, Canterbury Mudfish, Mana Island flax weevil, Alseuosmia the mimic plant, akeake the giant daisy, ongaonga the serious stinging nettle; as well as diesel grass, Rockhopper penguins, sea lions, kiwi, and parea/Chatham Island pigeon. And more! It’s a chocka block 39 minutes.
- The bird sound in this episode is the Parea/Chatham Island pigeon
- The music used is Let’s Get Down to Business by Cast of Characters
Te reo Māori translation:
Kia ora! Ko Erica Wilkinson tēnei. He kōnae ipurangi tēnei, e pā ana ki ngā Sounds of Science. (Hi! My name is Erica Wilkinson and this is a podcast about Sounds of Science).
Transcript for episode 16
[PAREA/CHATHAM ISLAND PIGEON CALL]
[ERICA]: Kia ora, I'm Erica Wilkinson, New Zealand's acting Threatened Species Ambassador, and this is the DOC "Sounds of Science" podcast.
[ERICA]: Every episode, we talk about work being done behind the scenes by DOC's technical experts, scientists, rangers, and the experts in between.
Kia ora! Ko Erica Wilkinson tēnei. He kōnae ipurangi tēnei, e pā ana ki ngā Sounds of Science.
[ERICA]: Today we're talking to Jack Mace, regional operations director for the Department of Conservation Te Papa Atawhai, kia ora Jack
[JACK]: Kia ora Erica. E tipu ake ahau I roto I te maru o Maungatapu, e inu ake ahau ngā wai o te awa Maitai. He Pākehā ahau, nō Whakatū I te Tau Ihu o Te Waka a Māui. Ko Jack Mace tōku ingoa.
I grew up in the shadow of Maungatapu, drinking the waters of the Matai river. I'm from Nelson in the top of the south. My name is Jack Mace.
[ERICA]: Kia ora! Thanks so much for being here. We are so lucky to have Jack here today. He is a Regional Operations Director now, but he's worked across a bunch of different roles at DOC and as a result has some of the most fascinating conservation stories I've ever heard.
Jack's probably one of my favourite people to talk to about conservation, because he is unfalteringly optimistic, enthusiastic, and he cares so much. So, under pressure to live up to that intro Jack, do you want to give us a bit of an overview about your time at DOC.
[JACK]: Sure. I started about 15 years ago in Nelson Lakes National Park. Still my most favoritist piece of conservation estate although, of course, there are many contenders now for that title. My very first job was a temporary summer ranger trapping stoats.
I actually applied to be a hut warden and was declined for that job on the grounds that they didn't really think I would be able to talk to people. And maybe I was just a little bit too interested in this biodiversity side of things.
But luckily, one of the staff there, Matt Maitland, took pity on me and offered me a job as a stoat trapper instead which was pretty good. So I had six months there in the beautiful Nelson Lake striping around the mountains. [I] got very, very, fit, very quickly.
A typical day might be 20 kilometres of walking, climbing a thousand vertical meters in the middle of it through the beech forest. And from there, moved up to Taranaki, where I was a Buttercup Ranger, focusing on special plants like our beautiful, tiny buttercups that grow only in the coastal [cliffs]
And from there just bounced around a whole lot of roles, I guess. I've been a bureaucrat deep in the heart of DOC trying to work to troubleshoot problems and make things flow more smoothly. I've trained Rangers. I've travelled all over the South Island and the North Island, monitoring plants, measuring carbon.
And then for the last five years, I've been a manager of our operations team. So working alongside and leading some of our awesome rangers.
[ERICA]: That's so cool. I think Buttercup Ranger sounds like the most fun job of those, although there are so many. And conservation runs in the family for you, doesn't it?
[JACK]: Yeah, my dad was a fisheries scientist, but there's one story in particular where our paths did overlap in conservation. So when I was working in Taranaki, one of the other threatened species I looked over was the powelliphanta giant snail.
So for those who are unfamiliar, these giant snails grow up to be the weight of a tui. And they're carnivorous famously, they suck up earthworms like their spaghetti. Have a look on YouTube. It's pretty incredible. So there's a small population that's an isolated remnant on Maunga Taranaki, and they only live in the most awful vegetation.
In the Leatherwood zone, a couple of hours walk up. And if you know what cutty grass is, the snails live in the dead, vegetation underneath, and then in those tangled, dense thickets of Leatherwood, that are almost easier to walk along the top of than underneath.
So even finding these snails is an immense challenge. We used to have to wear boiler suits and duct tape our sleeves around gloves to avoid ourselves getting sliced to pieces. We'd search all day. We might find one/two shells if we were lucky, but this incredible taonga of this carnivorous snail shell.
So my job was to look after these. And as a part of that, I was looking through the old files that were held in the office. And I found a series of correspondence between the chief ranger of Egmont National Park, as it was, of course, called back then.
And the chief of the Dominion Museum, where they were debating whether or not to prosecute my father for finding the first snail shell. And so it turned out that my dad had been there in the 70s tramping because he grew up on the maunga.
And he'd found one of these snail shells on the side of the track and being a zoology or fisheries scientist. He knew what it was and he took it back to the Dominion Museum in Wellington for I.D.. Little did he know that the chief ranger had heard there might be a snail shell up there and had planned a big expedition the next day to go and find it. And dad had pipped him at the post and stolen his glory. And so only by the good virtue and a hard lobbying of the head of the museum did dad escape a prosecution. Something he knew nothing of until I told him this 35 years later.
[ERICA]: That's amazing. I can't believe that. I can't believe they'd prosecute someone. It's not really his fault for going to do that.
[JACK]: No, but a welcome reminder if you see some nature out there. Leave it where it is. Take a photo and tell someone about it that way.
[ERICA]: Definitely. So you must have a multitude of conservation memories. Do you have particular ones that you tell around the barbecue? What’re your favourite ones?
[JACK]: Yeah, there's, there's almost an endless list.
[ERICA]: I bet.
[JACK]: So there is a good one attached to that snail shell, which is we wanted to find out whether or not these snails were genetically distinct, the nearest population of the same species is in the Ruahine range, which is like miles and miles and miles to the east.
And in between is all this low forested country where there's no powelliphanta that are known. So how did this population come to be on this isolated maunga off to the west of the island? They must be genetically distinct, different species.
And so we were working with Massey University, and we had to go and get some genetic material from them. So to get that was a story in itself. The first thing we had to do was wade chest deep through the icy cold waters of the Stony River and then climb up one of the steep bush clad spurs of the Pouakai range on this stormy, windswept day with trees falling in the bush around us, and then spent eight hours searching in the driving rain for these poor little snail shells tucked in amongst this leatherwood, we managed to find a few, and then we had to coax them out of their shells.
And the way we did that was actually using a portable spotlight. So the snails, they need to be kept moist, they need to keep hydrated and they'll try and seek shelter when they can. So they draw in to their shells.
But if the shells get too dry, then they have to come out and look for shelter again on the underside of that awful Gahnia cutty grass. So we'd shine this portable spot lamp onto the snail shells and they'd poke their little heads out and then we had to very quickly, but very carefully take a tiny sliver off the edge of their foot with a scalpel. I say carefully because, of course, snails don't have blood clotting factor. So if we'd gone too deep and cut into the vascular tissue, they could bleed to death. So all those elements of having to be quick, having to be very, very careful surgical position, all while in a howling wind and rainstorm upside down in the thickest scrub known to man on Taranaki, a very fun day.
[ERICA]: Oh, my gosh. And-
[JACK]: And we found out that actually genetically they're almost identical to the Ruahine snail so far from solving the mystery. We still have this mystery. How did they get there?
[ERICA]: For our listeners, I'd just like to point out that the entire story [JACK] was miming exactly what he was doing with the snail, and I wish that was on video. You have mentioned a kōkako story being one of your your favourites.
Can we talk about that?
[JACK]: Yeah, I love this story, actually. So all across the centre of New Zealand, are these immense rainforests. A lot of people, I suspect, don't actually know they're there, we sort of focus on the big grand mountainous places and think a lot of the central north island's flyover country, but some of the most majestic rainforests are there.
And a big arc expanding from Taranaki and Whanganui, all the way across to Te Urewera and the Raukumara. This particular story is in a place called Pureora, so those who are familiar with the timber trail, this is the northern end of it.
And this is actually the place where in a lot of ways modern conservation in New Zealand was born. So these massive ancient podocarp forest full of rimu, full of totora, were being progressively logged by the Forest Service and a protest group called Native Forest Actions set up there and they occupied trees.
And this is this is their story to tell, rather mine. But long story short, they were successful in changing the minds of New Zealanders and causing the end of native forest logging. What's really cool about this space is you drive down this road through this cleared forest, some of its farmland, some of its pine, and you drive down the forestry roads and progressively it goes from farmland to pine forest to cut over native forest. And then ultimately you get to this really original big, big rimu forest and you drive right to the very end of the road and there's a skid site where they would have hauled the logs.
And this is where the logging literally stopped, where they abandoned the machinery. And if you go there at dawn, you'll see and hear kokako sing, the grey ghost of the forest, the most haunting music you'll ever hear in the bush and they're there.
And if you know all of that backstory of that logging, not only do you see that journey as you go in, but you will know that if it hadn't stopped, the species would have been functionally extinct. It would have only been a relict on a few islands.
And so this place, this Pureora forest is the last great stronghold where we have enough pairs to maintain enough genetic diversity. There's other satellite populations around, and those are increasingly thriving with the work of iwi with the work of DOC, with the work of really passionate community groups.
But this was the real anchor population. And there but for the grace of God and a lot of hard work by whānau , hapū, iwi, community and DOC rangers, this population would of disappeared.
[ERICA]: Oh, my gosh. And is it a stable population there, in Pureora.
[JACK]: Yeah, it is. And there's been a heck of a lot of pest control by a very passionate group of people there for a long time. And as a result, that's our most stable population.
[ERICA]: Fantastic. You've worked in conservation for a long time now. What species are you really worried about? Is there one in particular?
[JACK]: Right now, I'm really worried about a species called the Tūturuatu or the Tchūriwat’. It's got two different names. The first is a te reo Māori name, the second as a Moriori name, because this bird, the shore plover hails from Rēkohu Wharekauri or the Chatham Islands.
I'm really worried about them because they're actually really, really threatened, they're as threatened as kākāpō or takahē, only a couple of hundred birds left, but they're particularly tenuous in that there's very, very few places where they can actually live. And for those not familiar with them, they're a shore bird.
So if you think about dotterels , oystercatchers/ tōrea there are similar sort of bird. But this one, although once widespread throughout New Zealand, is now only found on two very small offshore islands of the Chatham Island, so the remotest parts of our remotest part of our country.
Why I'm really worried about them is not just because they're only on these two islands and at any time their populations could be shattered by a predator turning up despite all of our biosecurity work. But because, you know, we often think, well, we can translocate them, we can put them to a predator free island.
But the habitat needs of these birds are very specialized. They need these exposed coastal platforms to live on. And so the list of islands they could go to a New Zealand is very small, but also they're hyper vulnerable.
So if you think about a kiwi population, you know, a stoat can come and you know, it'll kill the young kiwi and they'll decline to extinction over time. But we know from experience a single rat coming onto these islands could completely wipe out the population very, very quickly.
And we've had that with some of our translocated populations. We had some on Mana Island off the west coast of Wellington, and a single rat turned up and the birds all dispersed. And within a very short time, that population vanished.
The other reason they're challenging is because they're really, really vulnerable to native predators. So we did another translocation a couple of years ago to Mana Island, and it failed again. And we think it failed because of the falcon that that is resident on the island and it chased the birds off.
So we end up with this conservation dilemma of one threatened species as attacking another threatened species. That's much more endangered. We don't want to knock falcons on the head because there's only 5000 of them. And so the options for this bird, just are so narrow and limited.
And we're still trying to figure out exactly what can we do to make sure they've got somewhere secure for the long term.
[ERICA]: And they're really territorial and quite almost not really helping themselves, are they, they want to go in and see what's happening. And so they're they they walk around their little territory. Am I right?
[JACK]: Yeah, that's right. They’re the cutest little bird, again, I'd encourage people to get out and have a look at them. Little black hats on.
[ERICA]: And I don't understand why they're they're not more well known as well like there are. How many left is it? Two hundred and sixty in the wild or something.
[JACK]: Yeah. Not many.
[JACK]: There's a lot of species that are like this, we often focus on what we like to call the glamor species or the charismatic megafauna of New Zealand, the kākāpō, the kiwi, the kōkako. And look, I love all these birds and species to bits, but there's so many other threatened species and all of them are really charismatic in their own way. Be that a little Canterbury nobbled weevil, the flax weevil. Not even all birds. But one of my earliest jobs is working with threatened plants. And often when we're walking around, we won't notice them.
But if you're down in the coastal turf, you get down on your hands and knees with a microscope. You'll see the tiniest little plants, you know, buttercups a millimetre across, massively threatened by introduced pasture grasses. Really beautiful. But you wouldn't even know they're there.
[ERICA]: Yeah, I absolutely agree. In terms of the underrated species, I have fallen in love with the Canterbury Mudfish as soon as I heard about it, and I can't believe how not well known it is and how it can survive out of the water for three months and how there's like this, this electric fence to stop trout getting into its habitat. And it's just all these stories. I want them to be on the front page and they're not yet.
[JACK]: I love Mudfish and they're so cryptic. I was working with some colleagues in Hokitika helping out one day as they were preparing some habitat for Mudfish translocation, literally just a scrubby swamp in the back of the airport.
And they put a pallet down on the water to create some habitat, stood on it. It went underwater. When it flipped back up, there was a mudfish sitting on it … The ranger I was with, she dived to try to stabilize the pallet so we could check.
And as she dived, she slipped and pushed it under in the mudfish was gone again.
[ERICA]: No. So cryptic.
[JACK]: So very, very funny.
[ERICA]: Very funny.
[JACK]: And again, you look at these boggy swamps, these little ponds and forests, and you would never think there’s these amazing little fish tucked away in there, in the dried out pond, waiting for the rain.
[ERICA]: So in in the face of so much loss, like 90 percent of wetlands are gone in New Zealand, the climate's heating up. It's so important to recognize and celebrate the wins. Do you do you have some wins that you're super proud of?
[JACK]: One actually that I really like. We're recording this at the moment in Wellington. And I know that as I walk out the door from the recording studio, I'll be able to see kaka flying around. If I reflect back to the 90s when in Wellington, there was supposed to be six pairs of tūī - they were known by name.
And to think how far we've come through the work of Zealandia, through the work of the councils and through the work of a heck of a lot of passionate people in the community, I could run to work from where I used to live in western Wellington, down to the city centre.
And on a run, I'd see a whole suite of species that you normally only see on an island tīeke, totowai, kārearea, kākāriki, kākā all there in the bush and all thriving. It's pretty cool.
[ERICA]: That's so cool. And I love how it's become like the thing that is almost a problem to have, like, oh, the kaka, you know, messing up my roof or my tree in the backyard. I just love that we get to have that problem in Wellington.
We don't have it in Christchurch yet, but fingers crossed.
[JACK]: The rangers often get call outs for, you know, seals on the road or things like that. But Wellington's the only place I'm aware of where we're regularly called out to kākā in student flats causing havoc.
[ERICA]: I bet. Can you tell us a bit more about the flax weevil?
[JACK]: Yeah, these are these really cool little weevils. Weevils are a kind of beetle - there's an incredible amount of diversity of them in New Zealand, these particular ones, these sort of big things about the size of your thumb joint.
And they're only found on a bunch of offshore islands. So we've translocated them to some other islands, one of which is Mana Island, which I spoke earlier on off the west coast of Wellington. And it's a really good example of some of the dilemmas you face when you're too successful in conservation, which is we translocated them to Mana Island, where they live on the flax. But they've been so successful there for some unknown reason that they're now eating all the flax, and eating themselves out of house and home. And so one of my colleagues at Te Papa Colin Miskelly is leading a program of work there just to try to understand why are they so successful? What can we do about them? And how do you manage a species when you're over successful in the translocation?
[ERICA]: So sometimes translocations and conservation action can bring with them unexpected dilemmas. How do you go about weighing up the options and balancing everything for the best benefit for conservation?
[JACK]: It's a really good question. And I think often when we tell stories of conservation, we focus on, on kind of the successes or the failures and we paint them as black and white, but there's a huge amount of work that goes into all them and really often a lot of judgment.
I've always been blessed to be surrounded by really, really smart people who really know their stuff. And so whether I was a Ranger or now as a conservation manager, I turn to the experts, whether that's whānau , hapū, iwi, mana whenua, whether it's our scientist from inside DOC, colleagues from outside DOC, places like Wellington Zoo or Zealandia.
And you seek the advice, you weigh it up and then you make a plan and you go on that plan. But always being really careful just to keep the door open to new ideas. Conservation will often do what you don't expect it to, and you always need to be ready to adapt.
And I'm reminded of a story, I had a, I was lucky enough to spend a season down in the subantarctic islands and based off Enderby Island, which is sometimes known as Club Med Enderby, purely because it has a freezing cold sandy beach and no sandflies.
But on this particular story, I'm thinking of was on another island called Dundas, which I refer to as the hellhole of the South Pacific, possibly the worst island I've ever been to. It's about 4 hectares in size, the highest point is 14 meters above sea level.
And that's a tussock and it's an island where everything is grumpy. So there's beautiful sea lion, puppies, that everywhere else just sort of sit there in big, warm, inviting looking puppy piles. On Dundas they're angry. And if you're not careful, they'll come snarling out of the tussocks and try to bite you.
But on this island, it was a natural place. Very, very few people ever go there. It's one of our most protected places with landing strictly controlled. But naturally, there have been these mud holes form where the banks have eroded over time, and it's filled with this awful, awful, chocolaty, muddy, quick-sandy soup.
The sides are made of peat So it's very, very slippery when it's wet and the sea lion pups can slip and slide into this mud. And naturally, this would have happened all of the time. This would have happened. And Sea Lion pups would have would have died.
But of course, naturally, there would have been hundreds and hundreds of thousands of sea lions, and now there's far fewer, less than 10000. And so the scientists that I've been working with had devised a very clever solution to this, which is they just built some ramps so much like we might have a ramp to get out of the swimming pool. They built ramps into these pools and one of our jobs was to go and maintain these so that the sea lions could get themselves out. So although a natural process, it wasn't predators or anything that was that was threatening these sea lion populations or these puppies, nonetheless, because they were so threatened that the scientist felt we do need to intervene in this case.
[ERICA]: So the best thing about working at DOC I think, is always learning new things. Recently, I learned that female longtail bats carry their babies around by their nipples and they can carry up to 80 per cent of their bodyweight, which is just incredible.
And I now tell everyone I've ever met that fact, because I think it's amazing.
[JACK]: Doesn't bear thinking about too deeply though, does it?
[ERICA]: No. No, it doesn't. So what's what's something that when you learned it, it just blew your mind?
[JACK]: All right. Bear in mind, this is going to be quite nerdy, but we often know about animals that mimic other animals, wasps that mimic orchids. But do you know that New Zealand has plants that mimic other plants? And as far as I can tell, no one knows why.
So this is a genus called Alseuosmia, the name itself difficult to pronounce, almost like it's hiding within its own name. But the one that I first came across, everyone's heard of horopito, pepperwood, often one of the first practical jokes that gets played on you as a trainee bush person.
Here have some sugar leaf. You chew on it and it's spicy and peppery. And so I tried to chew one one day in the bush and it had no pepper and I couldn't figure out why. Turns out there's a species called Alseuosmia that perfectly, perfectly mimics horopito.
And I say perfectly enough that when I've been doing monitoring work and going and redoing the work of some very expert ecologists, and they've said this area is full of horopito, and it's not. It's this other species.
And as you travel around the country, there's a range of species, but they mimic other plants from completely different families. So when you go to the backblocks of Taranaki and the Whanganui, you'll see it mimicking pigeon wood.
So big toothed leaves when you go up to Northland at mimics ramarama, one of their Myrtle's species, that's got big, big bubbly leaves. And when you get your eye and you can just figure out the little giveaways that tell you something different.
But again, just crazy that we have these plants that for some unknown reason mimic a whole host of other plants around the country and mimic them well enough to fool even experienced botanists.
[ERICA]: That's amazing. And it's not for some defence mechanism or like blending in with the crowd so that no one eats them. They're not particularly tasty or anything.
[JACK]: Well, I do need to put a caveat in here, which is, I've been around DOC a lot, I've been around a lot of places. And as a result, I've got approximate knowledge of many things. So I think they don't.
But if one of our listeners wanted to write us in and say why they have evolved to look like other plants, I'll be fascinated to hear it.
[ERICA]: Please do. We're very keen to find out. And what's something that you tell other people to blow their minds? What's the kind of thing that you tell people that aren't conservationist maybe.
[JACK]: So first, is that on the Chatham Islands people use daisies for firewood and for fence posts. So the largest tree on the island is called akeake in te reo Māori or hakapiri in Moriori. And it's actually a daisy. It's this incredible tree.
So it grows up, gets blown over in a storm. It'll plunge back under the ground and pop up again with another trunk and it'll grow about as big as a kanuka or a young Wellington pohutukawa. And so as a result, you can use it for firewood, you can use it for fencepost.
But actually, it's a daisy.
[ERICA]: Amazing. And it's it's not threatened.
[JACK]: No, incredibly tenacious.
[ERICA]: It sounds like it's doing well.
[JACK]: One problem they have on the Chatham's is historically it was very, very heavily cleared. And so as a result, a lot of the forest is gone. But when you travel over there, you will see ake ake or hakapiri out in the paddocks and around the houses, and they love them over there, great trees.
The other interesting fact is that New Zealand has the largest stinging nettle in the world. And when I say largest, again, this is the size of a tree, like the size of an apple tree. And so probably every hunter in New Zealand will know the species from traveling around in the river valleys.
But they're massive. And they have these big jagged needles – you think about a nettle, and you know they're covered in these little bristly hairs - but this ones you can see very clearly and they stab you, just like a hypodermic needle.
You know, you've found this plant because you feel a sudden jabbing pain in your arm like someone stabbed you and for two or three days you'll be numb and itchy. And so this, from a hunters perspective, these are horrible trees because you're walking around, you don't want to stumble in and get stuck in a grove of them.
They have killed people in the past. People have had allergic reactions and heart attacks from being really severely stung. But then what's cool about them is these are also where our native admiral butterflies live and where they breed and lay their eggs and what they feed on.
So again, this fierce species, it's latin name, urtica ferox, the ferocious nettle. But then inside it, some of their most fragile and beautiful species.
[ERICA]: It sounds like it's pretty ferocious. That's kind of the Latin name that you want, isn't it? Like ferox That's pretty cool.
[JACK]: Just does what it says on the box. And I've got a few friends, Ranger colleagues who in their careers have been like sick enough to be bed bound for a couple of days after trying to push through it and not realizing where they were in the night.
[ERICA]: And Jack, have you been stung by this?
[JACK]: So many times. In fact, one of my worst days out in the bush I was hunting deer in the Ruahines and walking up a river and following what I thought was a deer trail, very, very intent on the ground in front of me.
And then looking up and realizing I was stuck in this patch of ongaonga along with apparently no way out and having to figure out how to get out without absolutely slaughtering myself. Another fond memory of what we called the leap of faith.
We had a possum monitoring line which when we do possum monitoring in the forest, we run lines straight. So none of this nice following spurs, following tracks. You start at a point on the compass, at a point on the map, and you walk out on a compass bearing across whatever terrain is there.
This particular line in the Tararua, climbed up onto this massive fallen tree, and then on the other side was this big death pit of ongaonga. And so the only way to get past it was to do this giant leap of faith over the top and land on the other side.
And luckily, in this case, the penalty for failure wasn't severe. It was a very, very itchy, scratchy, week. But nonetheless, it was quite exciting, quite Indiana Jones-y feeling
[ERICA]: Things you do for conservation. So you've had a lot of moments of on the job learning. Can you can you tell us about some.
[JACK]: Yeah, often these are ones that revolve around learning an important safety lesson. So in that first job when I was a stoat trapper in Nelson Lakes, I learned really first-hand what they talk about when they say the weather is very changeable in the mountains.
So New Zealand's mountains are among the deadliest in the world, not because of their height, not because of the steepness, but because the weather changes so abruptly. So an absolute bluebird day in summer in St Arnaud in the Nelson Lakes National Park.
We head out to the top of the range and set out about our work of checking stoat traps about eighteen hundred meters above sea level. Not a cloud in the sky. And about an hour in, I look over to the east towards Kaikoura and see this big black cloud on the horizon. Before I know it, it’s there on me.
And I had to spend 45 minutes hunkered underneath a rock while this blizzard and hail and snow rained down all around me. Gradually, it lifted. But it was just super, super murky. Like I could see my hand in front of my face, just, but not at arm's length.
As it increasingly cleared, I felt more and more confident. Well, I can keep going. So I started walking and I was dead certain that I was walking down the top of a ridge. The sky cleared a bit more just in time for me to realize. Actually, I was dropping right down towards a whole series of cliffs and waterfalls, where had I of kept going, for probably another five minutes, my number would have been up. So it was a really valuable lesson, some might say, in foresight, but certainly in-
Actually, we're often in a real rush to get work done, we're really compelled to finish the day's work. But actually, the importance of just stopping and making sure the conditions are right and you can do it safely first.
And I was able to apply that lesson a lot then in future life, particularly as I became a leader of others.
So we had another place, a site up in the mountains above Franz Joseph, really, really steep, 50 degree grass and what some of us would call diesel grass – one of our tussock species.
It's called diesel grass because it's so slippery when it's wet. But it's like someone poured diesel on the ground. You just go sliding. And so we had to do this work, this very, very steep plot. But we actually ended up having to wait an hour fidgeting, chafing at the bit to start until all the dew had burned off, because we knew if we went out there while it was still wet, potentially we'd lose our footing, and we would slide. Even then on the site, it was steep enough that I had to apply what I call the penalty for failure test.
And that’s- if you think about we often do a lot of work to try to avoid something happening, and that's really, really important. But it's also really important to think about, well, what if something does happen, if some unforeseen factor causes us to have an accident or an incident?
Well, what happens after? This is why our staff always carry locator beacons, why we have radios, why we have schedules in at the end of the day for remote work. So I think of that is what's the penalty for failure?
In this case the penalty for failure, if we did slide, would be some bruises and maybe a broken ankle. Had it been actually a broken leg or a broken neck, then we would never have done that site at all. We would have just abandoned that piece of work.
[ERICA]: So it sounds like if you're even if you're really experienced, you still need to be super cautious and aware of what the weather's doing because you just can't tell, is that right?
[JACK]: That's right. I mean, we do a lot of careful checking of weather beforehand, a lot of prep work. But I've done a lot of lone work in the bush, and I've got colleagues that do immense amounts and the bush can always throw something new at you.
So it's always important to make sure you've covered your bases, you're well prepped. And if you're going out and making sure you've got your raincoats, all your gear, even on a bluebird day, even for a short walk, that you got the gear in case something goes wrong.
[ERICA]: you don't want to end up doing a leap of faith. I've read that you once had to put a penguin in a wine cask. What's been your weirdest day at work?
[JACK]: Well, funnily enough, that's not one of it. And just to be clear, putting a penguin in wine cask was just a misguided attempt to try to hold it. And this is a Rockhopper penguin, and they are really, really strong.
So he had an empty cardboard box that happened to be from a wine cast that was empty. And we thought, could we use this as a kind of straight jacket to hold it? The answer was no, we couldn't.
Penguins are really, really strong. But funnily enough, that wasn't the weirdest day. The weirdest days at work all seem to revolve around poo. So whether it was my first day, learning that you can diagnose a kiwi poo by sniffing it, that led to my summer friends forever after referring to me as poo sniffer Mace, um to sieving sea lion poo – which is much worse than it sounds - to see if we could figure out what they'd been eating.
[JACK]: And if you ever want a job in conservation, I can strongly recommend not sieving sea lion poo.
[ERICA]: What do you do that for? Just to check what they've been eating.
[JACK]: Yeah, it was a study, again, by some of their sea lion scientists when I was down the subantarctic just to look at what the diet composed of. So if you sift through the disgusting yellow stinky liquid, you can get out some of the solid bits of squid that they have been eating.
[ERICA]: Charming. Oh, you want to put that on your CV? Is there a particular poo that smells worse?
[JACK]: Definitely. The sea lion. I mean, kiwi poo are actually reasonably innocuous. They smell a little bit like ammonia. It's not that bad. But the sea lion poo. You know, you've got fish in there. You've got squid. It’s not good.
[ERICA]: And it's yellow… seems unhealthy.
[JACK]: It’s yellow… bilious yellow.
[ERICA]: Oh, okay. Flipside, tell us about your your best day at work. What's been what's been the best so far?
[JACK]: Probably the first kiwi I ever found in the wild was a real highlight. And there is a picture of me floating around. It keeps haunting me. Most recently, my toddler daughter pointed out dad, dad, dad at a visitor centre.
And there was this photo of me from 15 years ago, but it was in Nelson Lakes. They’d been a translocation of great spotted Kiwi there. And there was a lot of survey work going on to see whether or not it had been successful, were they breeding.
Had we successfully been able to control predators enough for chicks to survive. And so we took the boat across the lake. We climbed right up to the bush edge alongside the kiwi Ranger, and we looked in the burrow where we knew a kiwi was… and boof!
Mum kiwi goes flying out at a million miles an hour and he says, oh well, she's gone. Just have a look in and see if there's a chick in there. So I poke my head in and lo and behold, there at the back of this burrow, right up on the tree line is this beautiful, great spotted kiwi chick staring back at me.
[ERICA]: Oh my god.
[JACK]: So of course, I put a transmitter on the chick and they followed it through. Mum came back and that chick survived to be an adult. But, absolute highlight to find this fluffy, cute little kiwi chick.
[ERICA]: Awesome. And is there something that you wish that you learned sooner along the way
[JACK]: just to get out there and do it. So I studied at university, and like many university students, I was very focused on the social life of it at the time, and some of my fellow students would get out and help out the lecturers, they’d go and volunteer for DOC over the summer.
I would have picked up on that earlier and I would have gone much harder. In fact, I would have gone when I was a teenager, because when I think of all the opportunities for other stories that slip me by, that I could have been seizing.
And there's so much opportunity now. There's so many predator free movements, there’s so many community groups out there working to restore species, even places like Wellington. You know, we've got Zealandia, we've got predator free. There's opportunities to get out there and do it.
So that's absolutely what I would have done. I would have started much earlier and gone much harder.
[ERICA]: And that's how you'd recommend getting a job in conservation, just getting out there.
[JACK]: Definitely. Again, the best thing you can ever do to get a job is experience. And the wonderful thing about conservation is this everywhere in New Zealand, there's ways to get involved.
[ERICA]: Awesome. So we've got some pretty big and pretty ambitious predator free goals being predator free by 2050. I mean, lots of islands that we're trying to get rid of pests on. What kind of critical things do we need to change in our toolbox?
[JACK]: We’re definitely going to need some new tools, the ones we've got work, but if we think about the scale of New Zealand, we might have to start going beyond traps and poison's we might have to start looking at things like gene technology, diseases that can actually come and do some of the work for us. We really need for people to see it as their work as well. It's not just something a government agency or some people over there can do. And if I think again about Wellington, ah Predator Free Miramar that we've almost got rid of every rat on that peninsula because people have got on board.
They're doing it themselves. They’re letting other people come in. And if every New Zealander cared enough to put a trap in their backyard to do some of this work, we'd be in a heck of a lot better place. Sure.
So one interesting thing my colleague James Wilcox often talks about when he talks about Predator Free Miramar and Predator Free Wellington is, he says he came into it from a conservation story. But what he found was actually a really strong social driver.
And then the impact of things like rats on communities and the binding together that it could do for communities to be focused on getting rid of these pest animals out of our homes and out of our gardens and out of our forests, that they actually that social driver was much stronger than he’d ever anticipated.
And so I think there's probably some gold for us there to think about, not just the conservation outcome, the intrinsic value, the taonga value of these species and places, but also what it can do back for us, whether it's for our own health as we get out in nature, the feeling of achievement we have, the feeling of being able to make a difference or the social binding that it can do for communities as they come together around an altruistic common good.
[ERICA]: It is such a social bond. It's pretty cool. Can you tell us a bit about what you've told me before about the Chatham Islands and how how diverse the characteristics are over there?
[JACK]: Oh, mate. The Chatham's is just this amazing place like so much of our threatened species diversity is there. It's kind of like the Chatham's is for New Zealand. What, New Zealand is for the rest of the world. Everything's different. Everything's just kind of weird.
So not only have you got these tree sized daisies, but it's like all of the birds are just that little bit bigger. Probably the coolest or the most visible demonstration of this, though, is a bird called the parea, which we’d know as a kūkupa or a kererū, a wood pigeon.
So the Chatham's have their own endemic one that's only on the Chatham's and almost went extinct as well. In fact, I think at one point it was down to about 45 birds left. And these things are mega, like the scientists will say they’re 20% larger than a kererū, but they look twice as big and they sit on the ground.
So these are like the native cows. They graze the grass. And there's one corner on the road in the south of the main Chatham Island, where if you come around the corner, you have to slow down, because on the other side of the corner, quite often there'll be a flock of these big parea just sitting in the road and they’ll waddle off slowly, flap lazily over to graze on the grass.
But again, actually also a conservation success story and if anything, a story of accidental conservation success. So they're lucky enough to live in an alongside the largest forest remnant left on the Chatham Islands, a place called the Tōku Nature Reserve that was donated by the Tuanui family who still farm out there next door. This forest is also home to the taiko, which is the world's rarest seabird. Lots of the world's rarest things make their home out there.
It's a bird that was only known from a single specimen collected at sea in the 19th century until it was found by the wonderfully named Davy Crockett and a band of others sometime in the 70s or 80s. And since then, there's been an immense amount of effort to care for it, to protect the young from rats, from cats, from hedgehogs, from possums that would predate them.
And so this effort that was put into trap these predators and control them inadvertently also led to these parea turning these numbers around and also started to thrive. So, again, far from collateral damage, it's a collateral success story.
[ERICA]: Such a good success story. Jack thank you so much for coming on. I've learned so much. I feel like there's been so much optimism around the conservation stories from your side. I'm really grateful for that. It's buoyed me up for the rest of my day, that's for sure.
We’ll have to get you back on again.
[JACK]: Yeah, it's awesome. I'm looking forward to going out and gathering more stories. There is so much good work happening everywhere that there are so many good stories being generated when I think of, you know, some of the work by Ngāti Tama in the white cliffs of North Taranaki, some of the work Ngāti Porou are doing up in the Raukūmara and Whānau a Apanui, just knowing that there's this whole suite of new conservation leaders, new conservation workers, new conservation stories coming out.
I'm really looking forward to another 15 years of going and finding some more cool yarns to bring ya.
[ERICA]: Awesome, we’ll have to get you on again. Thanks so much Jack.
[ERICA]: That's all for this episode. If you like what you heard, show us some love with a five-star rating. The DOC "Sounds of Science" podcast is available wherever you get your podcasts, so subscribe now, never miss an episode.
[PAREA/CHATHAM ISLAND PIGEON CALL]
Episode 15: The rare kākāriki karaka
Did you know that Aotearoa’s rarest parakeet is a small, forest-dwelling bird, and there are only about 360 estimated to be left in the wild? The kākāriki karaka, or orange-fronted parakeet are in serious trouble. Listen and learn about the work to monitor and track this species, control predators in critical areas, and boost numbers with captive breeding.
Plus hear how Andrew got started in this specific field and has become the office ‘cat scat guy’— not a title he ever sought out.
- The bird sound in this episode is the kākāriki karaka
- The music used is Let’s Get Down to Business by Cast of Characters
- Te reo Māori intro translation: Kia ora! Ko Erica Wilkinson tēnei. He kōnae ipurangi tēnei, e pā ana ki ngā Sounds of Science. (Hi! My name is Erica Wilkinson and this is a podcast about Sounds of Science).
We work in partnership with Ngāi Tahu to lead the kākāriki karaka recovery programme, which includes extensive predator control in their mainland habitat through the Tiakina Ngā Manu programme, captive breeding and maintaining a pest-free island population.
The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust, Auckland Zoo, Orana Wildlife Park, Christchurch Helicopters and Canterbury University all provide crucial support for this programme.
Transcript for episode 15
[KĀKĀRIKI KARAKA CALL]
[ERICA]: Kia ora, I'm Erica Wilkinson, New Zealand's acting Threatened Species Ambassador, and this is the DOC "Sounds of Science" podcast.
Every episode, we talk about work being done behind the scenes by DOC's technical experts, scientists, rangers, and the experts in between.
Kia ora! Ko Erica Wilkinson tēnei. He kōnae ipurangi tēnei, e pā ana ki ngā Sounds of Science.
[Erica]: So today we are chatting to someone who knows all there is to know about orange fronted kākāriki, Andrew Legault. Hi, Andrew.
[Andrew]: Kia ora Erica, ko Andrew toku ingoa. Hey, how's it going Erica?
[Erica]: Thank you very much for joining us. I'm a little bit excited about this one because they're one of my favourite birds. They got Bird of the Year... they came forth, didn't they? Couple of years ago.
[Andrew]: They were close.
[Andrew]: Yeah, they've been beaten out each year.
[Erica]: Not quite a cigar. So tell me about your role at DOC.
[Andrew]: I'm a science adviser, so I provide advice on the recovery of the orange fronted parakeet.
[Erica]: And how did you get into that?
[Andrew]: When I first started working on parakeets during my Ph.D. So I was doing research over in New Caledonia. And at the time, I was based in Tasmania, and then going and doing fieldwork in the rainforest, studying a few different species over there.
[Erica]: Amazing. Do you have favourite species from each of those places?
[Andrew]: I'd say the horned parakeet was up there. They've got quite a cool like crest on top of their head with a few feathers, just kind of poke up and it's pretty distinctive.
[Erica]: So it's always parakeet. Clearly.
[Andrew]: Oh not always parakeets. I mean, I like other species as well.
[Erica]: And you're allowed to! That's fine. So can you tell me what your work involves, at DOC?
[Andrew]: My work varies from day to day. It may involve things like data analysis or providing advice or generating ideas to help with the recovery of orange fronted parakeets. So it's usually a mixture of fieldwork and office work.
It really comes down to the time of year and what's required. So at times it could be up climbing a nest tree or other times maybe in the office having discussions or writing emails and proposals and that sort of thing.
[Erica]: The tree climbing bit does sound like you've got the best job in the world to me.
[Andrew]: It's one of the better perks of the job for sure.
[Erica]: I bet! I've seen photos. I'm like, how did they get up there? And it's this pulley system, isn't it?
[Andrew]: Yeah. More or less. I mean, you use ascenders to get up and then once you're up there, you switch to a descender and you can sort of rappel down like in the movies
[Erica]: Just like James Bond is where I'm going with that. So orange fronted kākāriki is our rarest parrot, it's what come back from the dead twice and it got declared extinct. And now it's classified as nationally critical.
But there used to be almost too many of them. Is that right? Not too many. There's no such thing as too many native species, but …
[Andrew]: Well, I think a lot of the reports that came in about having loads and loads of parakeets weren't necessarily associated with orange fronts, but they were they were more associated with kākāriki in general. So you'd see a lot of mixed species flocks.
And I think a lot of people didn't actually differentiate between the different species. So it's hard to say exactly how common orange fronts were. But you can imagine they would have been much more widespread than they are today.
[Erica]: So you mentioned there are a couple of species and sub-species of parakeet in New Zealand. Can you tell us about the differences between them? What ones do we have?
[Andrew]: The main ones are the red crowned parakeets, yellow crowned parakeets and of course, the orange fronted parakeet. The main differences are associated with their colouration. So with the orange fronted parakeet you'll have a frontal band, that's between the eyes just above the beak, that's coloured orange.
And with the yellow crown that's actually coloured red, with the red fronted parakeet or the red crown parakeet. The frontal band extends over the eyes and back over the crown.
And with both the orange front and the yellow crown, they've got a yellow crown, as the name suggests.
So there are a few other characteristic that we look at as well. For example, all the species have a rump spot. So with an orange fronted parakeet, you'll have like an orange rump spot, which is just sort of a patch of orange on either side of the bird.
And also the colouration of the plumage in general is a little bit different. So orange fronted parakeets have this blue, green plumage as opposed to yellow crowns, which have an olive green colouration.
[Erica]: So very brightly coloured, beautiful birds.
[Andrew]: Yeah. And difficult to see in the canopy because they pretty much blend in.
[Erica]: I bet, must be needle in a haystack.
Just for listeners, because we will probably interchange these -- The orange fronted kākāriki and the orange fronted parakeet are the same species, kākāriki is the te reo word for green and also for parakeet.
So Andrew, with the different species or subspecies of parakeet in New Zealand, is it true that the red crowned parakeet exists low in the canopy? Orange is in the middle and yellow crowned parakeet is up top, high in the canopy.
[Andrew]: Well, that's the prevailing theory at the moment, unfortunately, is a little bit difficult to test because we don't have all of those species in the same areas. So we've got, yellow crowns and orange fronted parakeets on the mainland coexisting.
And there is a slight distinction between the different strata. But it's not very well defined. On islands, you have red crown parakeets which forage along the ground. But again, you have a lot of overlap between the species. So you can see an orange fronted parakeet at the top of the canopy feeding on beech seed. And you can see them feeding on the ground as well.
[Erica]: So, OK, so it's not the traffic light that I want to visualise it as in my head.
[Andrew]: Unfortunately no, it’d be nice though.
[Erica]: That’s alright. It would be great visuals. So what habitat do you usually find them in? We've talked about canopies, but anywhere specific?
[Andrew]: They typically live in beech forests. So we find them in mainly red beech, especially where there are large trees that they can nest in. As far as we know, they're only located in three valleys in Arthur’s Pass National Park and Lake Summer Forest Park.
The only other subpopulations at the moment are on offshore islands. And those have been translocated there.
[Erica]: Right. Wow. So, Andrew, what are the key elements of population management when it comes to orange fronts?
[Andrew]: Yeah, we've got a number of different elements in place that we use to manage the population of orange front's. Probably the key one is predator control. And that's something that we're trying to do in a more dynamic way to cater to the needs of orange fronted parakeets.
And captive breeding is also a really big component to the programme now. So we raise up a lot of birds in captivity and then release them at very various locations on the mainland and on islands. Associated with that we've got a genetic screening programme in play, and that involves basically looking at what the best pairs are in captivity and matching them up so that we have the best genetic diversity possible. So it's sort of like a matchmaking algorithm.
[Erica]: I would watch that reality TV show if that were done. That's very cool. And what about banding?
[Andrew]: Yes, so banding is something that traditionally we sort of struggle with because this species is really stressed out. And if you catch them in a mist net, chances are you might actually kill them. So we're trying to avoid that as much as possible.
And so we're able to release birds with bands already on them and with transmitters as well. And that allows us to track them and to know their whereabouts and also to look at individual behaviours, which we've never had an insight into in the past.
[Erica]: And do you do a soft release like in an aviary, that's an open door? Can you tell me about that?
[Andrew]: Yeah. So the initial releases that we did were what we sort of term hard releases. That would involve basically taking birds and just opening the crate and allowing them to fly out. They weren't all that successful. So we switched to a soft release procedure, which involves bringing birds on site and putting them into an aviary and leaving them for about 48 hours or so, or to just become familiar with their surroundings. And so they're a little bit more settled when we open the doors and actually let them into the wild.
[Erica]: Wow. And that works better.
[Andrew]: It seems to work a lot better and allows us to put out supplementary food as well, which they switch on to and helps them sort of get anchored into the site.
[Erica]: And what's a feeder cam?
[Andrew]: So a feeder cam is essentially a trail camera that's looking at feeders and that allows us to gain insights into, again, behaviours and patterns of use. So it's actually really useful to be able to tell who's using the feeders and when, and where those birds are moving around.
Often you find them moving from one feeder to the next. And we've gained some really interesting insights in terms of how there's an transfer of knowledge from one bird to another. For example, we've seen birds transfer knowledge to wild birds.
And so you can have wild birds coming in to use these feeders, even though they've never seen them before. And you also have their offspring using the feeders as well. So you've got this sort of multi-generational knowledge transfer happening.
So it's pretty cool that we're able to pick up on that.
[Erica]: That's amazing. That's very cool. When species numbers are as low as they are with orange fronted kākāriki, do you find yourself getting attached to particular birds, especially with the feeder cam that you can see them on?
[Andrew}: Well, I think it's definitely a lot more noticeable when we've got bands on birds that our staff sort of become attached to certain individuals. And it's because you can actually see what they're doing from one day to the next, because when you don't have bands, you may see a parakeet in one location, you don't know if it's the same one, so you can't pick up those patterns of behaviour and you can't track nests from one, or one nesting opportunity to another.
I mean, we did have an example where we were banding nestlings and we had about four nests that we wanted to climb during that day.
And one of them, we left right till the end because we figured there probably wasn't anything left. I think at the time we expected them to have already fledged. So they were probably over 35 days old, roughly. But we went to it anyways, and we checked out whether there was anything inside.
And by the time we got up, there had a look inside. There was actually one bird left. And this bird was you know, it was a pretty decent size. And it looked like he'd basically been just, you know, enjoying the life of staying at home and having his parents sort of feed him for much longer than usually would. But we pulled him out of the nest and weighed him. And during that process, I think he actually went off the scales because we were expecting a certain weight, which was I think about 60 grams. And that was the max weight for the scale.
[Erica]: And he went over that.
[Andrew]: And it's not unusual to have birds sort of gain quite a lot of weight before they fledge. But this was particularly a big one. Yeah. So we basically banded them and we put him back in the tree and waited for him to fledge.
And sure enough, it wasn't long before we found him feeding at the feeder. So he was you know, he was basically taught how to use that feeder by his parents, because obviously you wouldn't know what a feeder looks like.
[Andrew]: And so we went back and forth a number of times to find this bird, because he also had a transmitter on. And, you know, it was pretty regular to find him at that feeder. And he was actually dominating and he was basically just chasing other birds around.
And, you know, it's really pretty interesting to be able to sort of recognise, you know, this is an individual who's got a different personality to all the other birds, and…
[Erica]: It's kind of bullying them at the feeder… no it’s my food…
[Andrew]: Wouldn't let anyone else on…
[Erica]: Yeah, that's quite an individual. So orange fronts are particularly vulnerable during nesting. Can you talk us through that nesting cycle and why they're vulnerable then?
[Andrew]: So nesting is actually linked to food availability. So if there's a lot of food around, birds would begin showing behaviours of nesting or preparing to nest. And usually one of the first signs is male and female end up pairing up together, and they'll start prospecting different holes, so they’ll go from one nest to the next or one potential nest to the next.
Poking their heads inside a hollow and seeing if there's anything inside that's suitable. And often the male will be encouraging the female to go inside and have a look, and the female will basically go and see if she's happy with it or not.
Eventually, they'll find something that is suitable. And once they breed the female, will go inside, lay her eggs, which could be anywhere from only a couple of eggs or more. Sometimes we've had up to nine eggs in the wild.
More than that in captivity. And then the female incubates those eggs. So she's sitting on eggs for probably over three weeks, I'd say.
[Erica]: Mm hmm.
[Andrew]: And after that point, the eggs hatch into nestlings and she basically allows the male inside the nest to feed them.
Prior to that, the male won't go inside at all. And the female basically makes trips outside to be fed by the male. But during that whole time, she's very vulnerable to predation, because if there are predators in the area, they'll climb up.
And they could potentially take out not only the clutch, but also the female.
[Erica]: Because there's only there's only one entrance, isn't there?
[Andrew]: A lot of the time there is only one entrance. Some older trees have multiple holes that predators could enter into, but especially if there is only one entrance, it means that whatever's inside is trapped.
[Erica]: Yeah, fire safety 101. And there's a slippery metal band that you put around when you when you know that there's a nest in the tree. Is that right? And that can stop predators.
[Andrew]: Yeah. We try to do everything that we can to protect those nest, because otherwise you could be losing the breeding females and the population just could just crash as a result. So that is one of the techniques that we used to put a metal band around the nest tree, but also around surrounding trees so that predators like rats or stoats can't climb up to the canopy and crawl across and then end up going for the nest.
[Erica]: Sure. And when it’s a good breeding season, like a mast or something, they can breed pretty continuously for a while. Is that right?
[Andrew]: We can see multiple clutches in a row. And the really interesting thing is that with orange fronted parakeets, the female, once she's reached the stage where the chicks have hatched she’ll actually leave the nest and start laying elsewhere so she won't necessarily wait until those chicks are fully grown and ready to fledge.
She'll leave all the feeding up to the male. So he's coming back and forth feeding the chicks, and then he's going to the other nest for the night where the female’s located and feeding her as well. So they've got to nest on the go within about maybe 50 metres, 100 metres away.
[Erica]: Wow. That's a busy season! So a mast is great for orange fronts, but it's also great for predator numbers. So is that why these guys get called like a ‘boom and bust’ species with a mast? Can you explain what happens in that situation?
[Andrew]: Yeah, a mast is basically a mast seeding event that's caused by inter annual fluctuations in temperature. So if you've had, say, like you've just gone through a warm summer and the previous summer was much cooler and you've got a large difference in temperatures, and that can then result in a mast in the following year.
So when that happens, there's an abundance of seed like beach forest, they flower, first of all, and all of that seed sets. And then it provides an amazing quantity of seed for parakeets and all these other species who rely on it.
Trouble is, once that seed hits the ground, you've got mice all over the place breeding. And unfortunately, those mice feed rats and stoats and you end up with plagues of rats all around the place. And when the mice and the seed runs out, they then switch to birds.
And the same happens with stoats as well. Their numbers go up as a result of it all. And then they also target birds and their nests.
[Erica]: So you've got bigger populations of orange fronts, but also bigger populations of rats and stoats towards the end of a mast season.
[Andrew]: Exactly. Yeah. Unfortunately, in some circumstances, those predator numbers can become so high that they take out a lot of the parakeets, a lot of the gains that we have as a result of the food supply.
[Erica]: Yeah. That must be heart-breaking sometimes. So numbers wise, for places like Hawdon Valley, what does that mean? You've talked about the post mast in 2014.
[Andrew]: Yeah. So in 2014, we had quite a lot of breeding happening with the remaining birds. But there were probably only about 20 birds that we knew of. In comparison, we had thousands of rats being caught in traps, hundreds of stoats being caught.
And you can imagine that there were so many predators out there that the losses were just too great. And essentially that population collapsed. So by 2015, we only had, I think, two sightings left of wild birds in that valley.
And the following year, I believe that was down to one sighting. And since then, we haven't seen any birds in there at all.
[Erica]: Right. So the mast season, it's great for both. But then obviously the predators take take it forward and it really booms and then busts for our native species.
[Andrew]: Definitely. Yeah. We need to be doing something to offset that effect. And that's where other measures of population management come in.
[Erica]: So what tools can we use in response to a mast event?
[Andrew]: The main tool that we use involves aerial sowing of 1080. And the reason being that we're covering huge areas that traps basically aren't effective over. We do have trap networks throughout these valleys, but they're mostly targeting stoats. And when you have thousands and thousands of rats running around, traps won't be enough to reduce their numbers to a low enough, to low enough densities where they're not impacting orange fronted parakeets or other species.
[Erica]: And it's just not logical as well, is it? The trapping an entire area that size?
[Andrew]: In some cases it’s not feasible. I mean, you've got some areas that are so steep and rugged that trap lines just wouldn't be very effective or more efficient to run.
[Erica]: Yeah. So what kind of challenges do you face in your work?
[Andrew]: I mean, there's always challenges coming up. We had one example where genetic diversity was a major issue, and it continues to be an issue in the Poulter Valley. We were trying to get genetics out of there for a number of years and nothing seemed to line up.
So in terms of having birds, and foster parents in captivity at the same time when we'd be ready to collect a clutch from the wild and eventually that population also declined to fewer than a dozen birds, I'd say.
And so we were looking at the last few remaining wild birds, and we made the call to basically try this new technique that I thought up, which was sort of like a Judas release, more or less. So we released captive birds with the intention of them mating up with the wild birds, having a nest that we could then harvest and bring genetics into captivity. So we weren't sure if it would work at all. But we did try it.
We had three different release sites in that valley, and we released a small number of birds to see whether they would find any mates. And sure enough, shortly after the release, we found birds that were associated with the wild birds.
But it wasn't until the next year when we actually were able to find a nest. And initially, we actually took chicks back into captivity, which is, again, unusual. We don't usually do that. We usually take eggs. But that worked successfully.
And that same pair had another clutch within about 30 metres of the initial nest tree. And so we then had the opportunity to take eggs. So we took about six of nine eggs out, and that boosted the genetic diversity in captivity.
And it also left three eggs in the wild, which successfully hatched and fledged. So it was sort of a win-win situation then. So, yeah, that worked out pretty well.
[Erica]: That's fantastic. What a great result. So you get to do things like tree climbing, bird banding, all these things that look like the best day at work. What's your weirdest day at work been?
[Andrew]: Yeah, I can't think of a specific day that I'd consider particularly weird, but occasionally we do have the field teams that have come in and bring little packages back to me. Sometimes these involve things like dead birds or rotten eggs or cat scat.
So essentially dealing with that is a little bit weird, I suppose, and it's probably my own fault because, you know, I was sort of requesting some of these things, but having sort of a pile of cat scat by my desk isn't that great in the office.
[Erica]: I just want to see the email we get. “Does anyone have some cat scat, desperately looking for?”
[Andrew]: Yeah, I mean, I was I was trying to get people interested in actually looking at the cat scat, because I think we can actually figure out some really interesting patterns of cat distribution and possibly looking at genetics. If you've got cats in different areas, you can work out whether it's the same one or not.
And you can also actually work out what cats are eating at various times of the year. So unfortunately, no, I didn't come across any takers.
[Erica]: That shocked me.
[Andrew]: Yeah. But yeah, it would have been great to actually get that study underway, because the sad thing is, we've had scat come in where it's apparent that orange fronted parakeets have been part of that cat's diet.
[Erica]: What's been your most memorable moment in your line of work?
[Andrew]: I think in this job, I get to do quite a lot of interesting things. I've got memories of flying over a Fiordland, seeing the landscape there with waterfalls and, you know, wild forests and hidden valleys. And but also, you know, tree climbing is a great experience.
You're up in the canopy and you can sort of just look out over these valleys. And it's pretty amazing to be able to do that as part of your work.
[Andrew]: But I guess if I think back to sort of when I first started a pretty good memory of the first nest that I found, and that was actually during the first week when I started with DOC. So it was pretty amazing to be able to locate a nest of critically endangered species. And during that year, actually, I think we'd only found two up to that point.
And yes, I remember sort of trying to track this bird back to a nest and essentially it just flew into a tree and disappeared. And I wasn't actually sure what was going on, but I was patient with it and had to actually come back the next day and track it down again.
And sure enough, I noticed that there was a bird flying in and it went straight into a hollow. And that nest was actually a pretty important find because that pair went on to have a second nest, which was something that we harvested or collected the eggs from.
And it was the very last clutch that came out of the Hawdon. So it was actually pretty important that we found that and we were able to get those genetics out before they disappeared.
[Erica]: And you found that in your first week.
[Erica]: That's amazing.
[Andrew]: Yeah, it was pretty cool feeling.
[Erica]: Wow. Have you had a sort of biggest learning curve in your line of work?
[Andrew]: Yeah, I think what surprised me is the amount of sort of collaboration and cooperation that's required to get things done. You know, it's not just about one person. You may have the best plans and strategies in place, but, you know, we need to be working with other individuals, whether it's colleagues or partnerships with Ngāi Tahu, partnerships with people like Christchurch Helicopters who have really helped us out along the way. And so that for me has been a bit of a learning curve, because it's not just about doing the work. It's actually about, you know, communicating with everyone else who's involved.
[Erica]: So it's really about working together. What's something about your work that you wish everyone knew?
[Andrew]: I think people would be surprised to know that this species probably would be extinct if it weren't for the work that we've been doing over the last 20 years or so.
[Andrew]: Although they're at such low numbers now. There has been a huge amount of effort put in to make sure that, you know, we don't lose this species. And so that's probably the main thing that I think is really useful for people to realise.
[Erica]: Yeah, well, I mean, you nearly lost them in 1919 and then in 1965 or something like that, it got declared extinct. And that you brought them back from the brink like that?
[Andrew]: Yeah. And more recently, you know, we've had masts, say like in 2001, I think the population was down to 150 to maybe 500 roughly. So, you know, in the past 20 years or so, we've been in very low numbers, like just a few hundred birds left, and they've just been hanging on.
And so each time that we have a mast, you know, the population kind of goes up just briefly and then drops away again. So, yeah, it is quite, quite difficult to manage this species.
[Erica]: Yeah. So speaking of masts, how would you say that climate change affects your work?
[Andrew]: There's probably two ways where climate change has the potential to affect the work that we're doing. One is that if you had climate change affecting the differences between two consecutive summers, then that could potentially result in increased masts, so having more masts or more frequent masts.
The current models don't suggest that that is the case. But it is definitely a possibility. And if there's increased climate fluctuations, then you may see that happening. It seems that just an increase in temperature isn't enough to cause masts to happen. It's actually the differences between the different summers.
The other way that climate change has the potential to affect these species is that they're located in high valleys.
[Andrew]: Well, sorry, in the Canterbury high country. And if that habitat disappears, they might not have anywhere to go, basically. So as the climate warms, there's potential that those…
[Erica]: They’re losing their habitat.
[Andrew]: Yeah…. could become less favourable for the species.
[Erica]: Sure. So what do you say to people who just don't seem to get it, who can't seem to understand why there's all this effort over one bird or why it's so important to do the predator control that you do?
[Andrew]: I think we all have this sort of obligation to protect wilderness areas and to make sure that the species that inhabit those areas are safe and don't go extinct. I mean, I think it would be a huge injustice to let a species go extinct when we have the capacity to be able to prevent that from happening.
Whether it's a parakeet or Powelliphanta snail, it doesn't really matter. I mean, it's still a species that we should be protecting. So, yeah, I mean, I think if you look at the species that have gone extinct, species like the bush wren or the laughing owl, it seems pretty disappointing to not be able to see those species. And it would be a shame for the next generation not be able, to be able to experience the same thing with kākāriki or kakapo.
[Erica]: That's so true. It's almost like an international responsibility when there's such endemic, unique species here, isn't it?
[Andrew]: Definitely. I think each country has an obligation to protect the species that falls within it.
[Erica]: Yeah. Well, thank you so much for being here. This has been absolutely fantastic. I've learnt so many things about orange fronted kākāriki. Yeah. Thank you very much, Andrew.
[Andrew]: That's a lot for having me.
This is the much awaited second part of Brent Beaven’s Predator Free interview. In this episode, we’re talking about upcoming innovations as well as current predator control tools, and yes that includes 1080. This episode is a big swing and we hope it gives you some important context.
- The bird sound in this episode is the Northern brown kiwi
- The music used is Let’s Get Down to Business by Cast of Characters
- Brent’s excellent blog series about Predator Free is available on the Conservation Blog
Te reo Māori translation:
Transcript for episode 14
[NORTHERN BROWN KIWI CALL]
Every episode, we talk about work being done behind the scenes by DOC's technical experts, scientists, rangers, and the experts in between.
Kia ora! Ko Erica Wilkinson tēnei. He kōnae ipurangi tēnei, e pā ana ki ngā Sounds of Science.
This is part two of our chat with Brent Beaven, the Program Manager for Predator Free 2050.
In the first part, episode 13, we covered Brent's conservation experience with memorable moments like chasing sea lions with a stick, and catching mohua in his socks.
In this episode, we're talking about the latest innovations helping us get to Predator Free 2050. We also cover 1080, staff safety, and feral cats. So some quite big topics.
Here's the DOC Sounds of Science podcast with Brent Beaven, part two.
[ERICA]: I've heard a rumour that you've got a really great white shark story.
[BRENT]: That's so funny. I know -- this is just an absolute privilege actually, because when I was on Stewart island, it's one of the epicenters of great white shark activity because there's so many seals there. So this is just a total system in action, which is really cool.
So we've got so many fur seals-- the prey predator thing
[ERICA]: the prey predator thing
[BRENT]: the prey predator thing. So the great white sharks will come down every year. They travel all the way down and just hang around the seal colony, filling up on fur seals.
And then at the end of the breeding season, of the seal breeding season, about June, they take off again. They go all the way to Australia or New Caledonia almost in a straight line.
The reason we know that is because we had a science program operating down off Stewart Island for a few years tagging them, putting satellite tags and so we could see that they were going all the way to New Caledonia in a directly straight line.
And I, over a few seasons, had the opportunity go out with Clinton Duffy and a few others to tag these animals. And to tag them you have to actually catch them and get them alongside the boat.
[ERICA]: No thank you.
[BRENT]: Or attract them in so they come right up to the boat. And then there's a tag you can just jab into to them. But these animals are seven meters long, which is just-- five to seven meters long.
And the thing you don't realise when you think about that is the depth and the width of them.
[BRENT]: They'd stand about a metre, a metre and a half in height on the ground.
[ERICA]: And that’s just all teeth!
[BRENT]: And they look like they're just lazily swimming around, well, and they are because they're not afraid of anything.
And I love the way they would check out the boat, as they would-- because they-re never sure what the boat is, you've got tuna and everything. You're trying to get-- you're putting oils out and then you have a bait that you drag in front of them to get them to come right up to the boat.
[ERICA]: Oh God.
[BRENT]: But they would check out the boat by biting, so come up to the back of the boat and just bite it [GNAWING NOISES] to see what it was. And that is how they check everything out.
So I think that's why people get bitten. They're not eating them, they're sort of, well what's this. I'll check it out. [GNAWING NOISES]
[ERICA]: Oh, my God.
[BRENT]: So, yes, And we would at times have five sharks just swimming around the boat.
[BRENT]: And when you put the lure in you sort of … jab jab?
[ERICA]: The tag?
[ERICA]: Sorry, the tag.
[BRENT]: The tag, yeah. Just on a pole and when it got in really close, just jabbed in just behind the dorsal fin.
So, I mean, they also bite each other, so they've got quite thick skins. So it doesn't really bother them too much.
[ERICA]: And did the back of the boat have quite a thick skin?
[BRENT]: No, we had to replace the trimtabs on the boat every year because the sharks would bite them off.
- Predator Free 2050, can we do it?
[BRENT]: If you think of it, it's just as basic as scaling up our current eradication technology which we've been able to do. So if we scale up eradication that is one key element.
The other key element is defendability. So the reason we don't really do eradications on the mainland is because we can't keep the pests out.
So we use islands which use water to keep them out. Or we use those fenced sanctuaries like Zealandia or Maungatautari to keep-- the fences keep the predators out.
So if we can solve the defendability and we can solve scale, which is just logistics, how do we do things that bigger, bigger, bigger scale, then we're pretty well set to start to roll it out across the country.
So this is where the focus is at the moment, is on the science, the technology, the understanding of how we do it, as opposed to lots and lots of hectares.
We've got a really cool program happening in the science space with defendability, calling farms as barriers at the moment. So it's using farms --because we've got to do eradication everywhere -- so we're suddenly going to think, oh, how do we do eradication on farmland?
[BRENT]: And if we achieve eradication on farmland and you leave everything in place, can you use that-- so if a stoat comes in, will it get captured, or caught, or killed, before it gets out the other side? And if you do that, you've suddenly got a new barrier or a new fence.
And I look at a map of the North Island, you can pretty quickly divide the North Island up by farms.
[BRENT]: And you move them, they're movable barriers, so that's fantastic. You'd unlock so much of Predator Free just through that simple solution.
[ERICA]: So you've talked about farms being used as barriers. What else can be used as barriers?
[BRENT]: Barriers is … you've got to think of it in the broader sense like we're talking about with farmland. So there's some work going on around what they call virtual barriers round trap lines, things like that. Can you have enough traps in place to create a barrier?
Miramar is looking at the airport runway as a barrier because animals don't really like crossing open ground. So can you use that sort of thing to prevent movement?
[ERICA]: Well, if I was a mouse I wouldn't want to cross that while there were planes coming in.
[BRENT]: No, no you'd get quite a flat mouse.
And the other things that are happening, we've got our fences, and the ZIP guys, Zero Invasive Predators, a little start up company that's doing lots of research in this space in innovation and engineering. So they've got a low-cost low fence which keep everything out except cats.
So that's in development. They're trying things like lights—if you're a nocturnal animal and you don't like lights, can you use lights as a barrier?
And then we've got alpine ranges. So the Southern Alps is actually quite an effective barrier for these animals because they don't like going across.
And big rivers, they're not impermeable, but if you have a big river system it can be a really good barrier where you lower your invasion to low enough that you can treat it.
[ERICA]: Like the Perth Valley.
[BRENT]: Like the Perth Valley. Perth Valley is an area in South Westland where ZIP is trying a eradication and defend site at scale. So it's about 10,000 hectares.
The reason they chose that site is it's got two rivers that run around it and protect it. So they get some invasion but manageable. So this is the point; barriers don't have to be impenetrable. But they have to get you to a point where you can manage the reinvasion.
And it's not just the barriers to things coming in, but it's how do you detect them, and get rid of them when they're in there. And this is where we're making a lot of advance and a lot of investment into things like artificial intelligence, and smart devices, and data connectivity.
So then you get into a spot with a camera or something like that that can tell you, ‘oh rat's turned up here’. And if it's really smart then you'd go, ‘rat's turned up here and I've killed it for you. Don't worry about it.’
[ERICA]: That's such a game changer for that ability to defend sites.
[ERICA]: Because in one of your blogs you talk about the PAWs sensors in the AI cameras. Can you tell us a bit about those?
[BRENT]: Yeah, so one of the things when we achieve eradication, we want to know if something gets in. And we want to know really quickly so we can protect against it.
And if we had been on Ulva Island those years ago when the rats came in, if we had something on site they could tell us immediately that a rat's arrived, we would have prevented a population establishing. So it's a huge cost saving.
And if you think about our islands at the moment, we go out every four months to do a bio-security check. So you're giving animals quite a period.
We're developing a couple of devices. One is called PAWS, which is Print Acquisition of Wildlife Surveillance.
[ERICA]: I just want to be in the room when they were thinking, how can we make it say PAWS?
[BRENT]: Yeah, make it sound like PAWS. Yeah. Let's say it's a sensor pad, like a cell phone, like when you tap on your smartphone? It's sort of like one of those laid down in a tunnel.
The animal runs through, and it's through its print patterns, it can tell you whether it's a Norway rat, a ship rat, a possum, a cat, a ferret, a stoat.
And so once it's done that, it's then linked to send you a text or an email or whatever you want, so you immediately know that that animal is there.
And then the same with the camera's, there's a little work going on with different cameras. Some just standard cameras but infrared cameras seem to be really creating quite a breakthrough.
And the infrared cameras can sit there, follow an animal, and then through artificial intelligence through its shape and movement and what it does, tell you whether that's a possum, or a rat, or a stoat.
And again, linking it in to some form of data connectivity through your cell phone or an email, it will tell you that that animal's there immediately.
Next stage for us is linking that to something that will deal with that animal immediately.
[ERICA]: Like a drone?
[BRENT]: Yeah, or there's one thing that's been explored by ZIP is a lure. So just think of it this way, there's a sort of mayonnaise-based feeding product there that the camera's on and stoats love it. So they'll go and just eat this mayonnaise. that's freshly dripping out over a period of time.
They get to really love it and they get into it. And the camera goes, oh, stoats turned up at this one. Where you could use your AI to turn on another four, maybe, around that have mayonnaise with a toxin in it.
And then the stoat will go to the next one, next one, the next one and it will get killed. Or you link it into a new type of trap, the Cacophony guys have started developing a new trap that just looks flat. It's open, there's nothing there.
And the animal just walks into this area where the lure is, or whatever's brought it in. And then the sides shoot up and it's all enclosed in the space. So it's things like that-- that you know, can really change the game.
Imagine having a trap where, if you're a kiwi or tuatara, you can walk all the way through it and nothing happens. And it's only when it goes, ah, you're a possum,
[ERICA]: we know you’re a possum!
[BRENT]: we need to get rid of you, that it goes off.
[ERICA]: That's so clever. Grant Ryan from the Cacophony project has talked about very interesting things in terms of-- he showed me this trail camera footage of a trap, and how all these rats went around it. And it took one rat going into it, and then they all followed it as well because they follow the rat in front.
[BRENT]: Yeah, they follow sensory clues, they hunt by smell. It's the same. So they'll follow those clues to food. But we've got a new part of our activity is funding product development. So it was new technology, which is heaps of fun. We've got a fund called Tools to Market, which is just literally what it does. It pays for a new tools to come in. And people that are developing it, we give them funds to help bring these products through to market.
And Predator Free 2050 Limited, the company that is doing work in this space as well, a charitable company, it's got one called products to projects. And it's very similar. They work side by side.
So one of the ones I like in there that has been developed is this thing called a Spitfire device. And it's sort of getting to that smart technology end of it.
So it's got a possum one where a possum stands, and through its weight and its height, they can tell it's a possum, and it's got to climb up to get it.
And then it will squirt some, what they call pap, it's a new type toxin, (well it's not new but we haven't used it much in the past), gets sprayed onto its belly fur, then the possum goes and licks it up. And that's how it gets poisoned. So we're funding that.
And these guys also do drones which are really cool. So we're funding this heavy lift drone which should lift 300 kilos, and are looking at a ways of doing aerial distribution from the drone.
And as we think about our carbon into the future, that becomes really important. But we might develop that pap stuff we're talking about, we're trying to develop an aerial sausage bait for stoats and ferrets and cats--wild cats.
So if we can do that, then this drone could be a distribution mechanism. Or we might end up in a space where we're getting traps that you can distribute by air.
So it's just trying to link all these different projects together as well as part of-- I suppose it's part of what my team does is make sure they don't operate in isolation but get pulled together into a—
[ERICA]: That it's a national overview.
[BRENT]: Yeah. Well, we've got a program running around long- life lures so we just bringing out a rat one. It should be in market soon from Victoria University. And they're working on another one, a multi-species lure.
These things are chemical, but they're as attractive to rats as peanut butter is. But they'll last six months smelling fresh as a daisy the whole way through.
So they sit in this space. The advantage is once you get that, if you've got someone overlooking the program, we can link that to the PAWS unit so that the PAWS guys have a long-life lure that's attracting animals, and you can link it to something else to get an animal into it. So they all overlap and they all need to come together to start to leverage off each other, to create the step-change we need to deliver Predator Free.
[ERICA]: And then we can get there even faster.
[BRENT]: And then we get there.
[ERICA]: So we know that a business's usual approach is the pathway to extinction, as we've called it, but some people don't love the use of 1080 in Aotearoa. Are you worried about that sentiment, the anti-1080 sentiment?
[BRENT]: Oh, yes and no? I think, the reality is—well,I don't think, I know, the reality is that we need to keep using it. It's an effective tool until we get to the point of achieving eradication, we need to keep these animals alive.
And the only way to keep them alive is to remove the predators. And at the moment, the best methodology at large landscape scale space, on the scale like a million hectares sort of space we need: is aerial 1080.
There's still a space for people to do trapping, and everything else, and lots of other stuff, but we can't walk away from that tool at the moment.
I think most New Zealanders get that.
I know there's a real vocal minority, but they are in the minority.
So as long as most New Zealanders understand the logic, and we're doing it right, then I'm not so worried about that. But I do worry about the impact on staff and people.
And I think its … when people personalize it in a New Zealand society and really, really target people, I just think that's unfair. It’s not how we … If you ever described what a New Zealander's character is like overseas, I don't think you would ever include that element of it, because it's not how we want to be as a country. And I dislike that bit.
[ERICA]: That's such a good way to put it. Do you get it [anti 1080 targeting] personally a bit?
[BRENT]: I have. I'm a bit of a social media luddite. So I just don't look at comments, then it doesn't bother me. But I have personally had it. I remember when we were first discussing possum control on Stewart island, I held a public meeting about it, and there was no possum control on Stewart Island at the start and we were trying to find a way to go through it.
And there was so much anti-1080 sentiment -- because we were holding all options open because we wanted the discussion. I had to get the policeman to come down in uniform to stand behind me at the meeting, because it was that hot and heated and targeted.
So, yeah, I think everyone who's worked in predator control, pest control, and conservation, runs into that at some point in time.
But I'd just encourage people to reflect on the style of debate and discussion they're having. Because, like I said, when you personalise it onto people who are passionate about their life's work, and what they're doing, and they're usually getting paid poorly to try to look after these species -- they're in it for the right reasons and are mission driven and this is what they want to do.
So to then personally target them because of your belief, I think that you should really seriously reflect on that.
[ERICA]: Absolutely agree. Predator Free 2050 is the big three, but it excludes feral cats. Tell me about that.
[BRENT]: It doesn't totally exclude feral cats. We've got this idea that where they're an issue at place, we need to manage them. And they are a key predator.
[BRENT]: I don't think people really understand how much impact feral cats are having. Yeah, they're an apex predator. They're our little mini-Tigers that are going around and killing all the little animals.
I remember seeing one cut open that had over 20 skinks in it. They just vacuum up our lizard fauna particularly, and ground nesting birds.
So places like [Maukahuka] Auckland Island, down in the Subantarctics, and the Rakiura Stewart island, we've got cats squarely in the target for getting rid of them, from those places, they just don't belong there.
But the problem we've got with feral cats, with cats in general, why we can't bring it into a national eradication program is we can't control the breeding.
There's lots of pet cats and there's lots of stray cats. And because we've had such a long history of pet ownership with cats, there's very little legislation, or ability, or social capital, or buy-in to the idea of containing, or controlling, or not letting cats breed.
And look a feral cat, and a stray cat, and a domestic cat … there's not really a difference between them. The only difference is how well fed it is. So the only reason the cat stays at your home generally is that you're feeding it. Because they are the same animals as the wild cat. You see those populations of stray cats sitting around towns? They're just producing so many offspring that are feeding into the rest of the country.
So at the moment, probably mainly due to social issues, we just can't include those animals within a nationwide eradication.
[ERICA]: Okay. And on [Maukahuka] Auckland Island they're looking at eradicating them completely?
[ERICA]: With the PAP?
[BRENT]: We're looking at mice, feral pigs, and cats on the Auckland Island. If we can do that one, that's the last island in the New Zealand subantarctic group to have pests taken off it.
[ERICA]: And the biggest, right?
[BRENT]: And the biggest.
[BRENT]: So we did the Antipodes Island with the Million Dollar Mouse program a couple of years ago. We did Campbell Island before that. And we’d done Enderby.
So we will be the first country in the world to completely clear pests off all of our subantarctics, which is one of our World Heritage sites. They are absolutely amazing places. So we're really aiming for that. That'd be great and it also creates that step change, starts to scale again, because it's 47,000 hectares.
So it's starting to grow our understanding of scale and logistics and what we need to do. So I'm really looking forward to that bit happening.
[ERICA]: That's incredible.
Tell me about one of your weirdest days at work?
[BRENT]: Okay [laughs] so when I was on a trip down to Campbell Island. And we had this fantastic job where we wanted to do disease screening across the whole island because we were reintroducing Campbell Island seal which had been completely removed from the whole island by rats.
And we had a back-up population, mainly out of captive breeding, that they were being just kept alive. And once we achieved rat eradication we could take them back. But we didn't want to bring a new disease down that might affect wildlife.
So we were catching birds and swabbing them, taking blood samples, all for these disease screening, not something you'd do at home but they were for these disease screening requirements.
So we were catching albatross, and mollymawks, and everything we could get our little hands on. But I was particularly over at Northwest Bay we wanted to get yellow-eyed penguins.
And at this one location there were close to 100 yellow-eyed penguins. I think it was 96 yellow-eyed penguins would come down this one trail in the morning to go out to sea to feed.
[ERICA]: Just in a line?
[BRENT]: And they were literally in a line coming down the site to go offshore.
[BRENT]: And we were catching them, and I got in a bit of trouble because I caught three at once. So I had one under each hand pinned to the ground, and one held down by my foot, and my boot on its back. And that was all good till I realized I couldn't move. So I was a bit stuck as to what did I do next to get these penguins in a bag so we could get them-- eventually someone came over and helped me.
[ERICA]: --And helped you, saw your plight.
[BRENT]: Yeah. Oh, the albatross are amazing. We caught a wandering albatross to take blood from it. And it was like a hose pipe running down its legs. It's such a big blood vessel coming down the leg to take blood from.
[BRENT]: But they're very big birds, very, very big birds. I mean they've got a 3-meter wingspan. When you get them up close, they're a very big bird.
[ERICA]: Wow. Is there a single most important takeaway that you want people to understand about Predator Free.
[BRENT]: Yes. Predator Free 2050, or removing these predators, is our responsibility, and our responsibility for our kids. We live in this country and the only way to save our wildlife, the things that make us unique, and make us who we are as New Zealanders, our kiwi, our whio, all those birds we see every day on banknotes and that, but not in the wild, the only way to look after them is to remove these predators.
And I think it's our responsibility as a nation to make sure we protect what was here before us. On top of that, we can do it. We can do it! It's mapped, it's ready! If we all buy into it and we all take our own actions towards it and we act like a team of 5 million then we will knock this one off.
And it will be one of the greatest things we ever look back on in our history and say, gosh what an amazing event we did as a group of people. And it'll be a day where I'll be able to sit with my kids and feel very proud of what we did as a nation.
[ERICA]: And what can I do at home? Trap?
[BRENT]: You can trap. You can conceptually support what we're doing, which is great! [Laughs] But trapping by yourself, a little bit limited on its impact and what it can do. But if you start to link with your neighbours and people surrounding you, and you start to grow the scale, then together as a community you can make a difference.
[ERICA]: Fantastic. Thank you so much for coming in today, Brent. This has been such an incredible learning curve. Thank you very much for what you're doing for Aotearoa.
[BRENT]: My pleasure, thank you, Erica.
[ERICA]: That's all for this episode. If you like what you heard show us some love with a five-star rating.
The DOC Sounds of Science podcast is available wherever you get your podcast so subscribe now and never miss an episode.
Brent is on the show to tell us everything we need to know about Predator Free 2050 – in fact, he told us so much, we’ve split his interview into two. This is part one. Brent is an expert on predator control and has decades of hands-on field experience. He's herded sea lions, been hounded by kiwi, and caught mohua in his socks. In the world of threatened species conservation, you name it and Brent has done it. Listen and learn.
- The bird sound in this episode is the Northern brown kiwi
- The music used is Let’s Get Down to Business by Cast of Characters
- Brent’s excellent blog series about Predator Free is available on the Conservation Blog
Te reo Māori translation:
Kia ora, Erica, ko Brent Beaven ahau (Hi Erica, I’m Brent Beaven).
Transcript for episdoe 13
[NORTHERN BROWN KIWI CALL]
Kia ora, I'm Erica Wilkinson, New Zealand's acting Threatened Species Ambassador, and this is the DOC "Sounds of Science" podcast.
[ERICA]: Kia ora! Ko Erica Wilkinson tēnei. He kōnae ipurangi tēnei, e pā ana ki ngā Sounds of Science.
Today on the show, we have Brent Beaven, our expert in all things Predator Free.
[BRENT]: Kia ora, Erica. Ko Brent Beaven ahau. I'm with the Department of Conservation, looking after the Predator Free program.
[ERICA]: Fantastic to have you here. Thanks for joining us.
[BRENT]: It's an absolute pleasure.
[ERICA]: You've just said that you're in Predator Free. So tell me about your role at DOC.
[BRENT]: I'm the Director or Program Manager at the Department of Conservation who sort of owns the Predator Free program. So we got given the responsibility by government to manage it, create the strategy, and make sure it operates effectively as a whole. So my role is sort of working across government, across organizations, to make sure we're all focused on the work we need to do to deliver Predator Free.
[ERICA]: It's a pretty big job.
[BRENT]: At times, it is very big. But it's very rewarding, as well.
[ERICA]: So you're like the master of the jigsaw, everything coming towards Predator Free 2050.
[BRENT]: I'm not sure I'd use the word master. But yeah, we're sort of like the cat herder, trying to get everything in line. So--
[ERICA]: Oh, yeah. Yeah, we'll talk about cats later. So how did you get started in the field that you're in?
[BRENT]: That took a very long time. I'm a very old DOC person. I started 25 years ago in DOC, and started in mainland islands and Te Urewera, and then went to Stewart Island for 16 years.
But all that time, I've been managing predators and doing that sort of work. And I was in the Minister's office when Predator Free got started. And when this job became available, I sort of transitioned across and grabbed this, which was a great opportunity.
[ERICA]: What's Stewart Island like?
[BRENT]: Stewart Island is lovely--
[ERICA]: Is it?
[BRENT]:--one of my favourite places in the world.
[ERICA]: Is it? Do you have a favourite animal from down there?
[BRENT]:Well, it's got lots of animals on there. But I do like the fact we brought kiwi back around the town a few years ago. And I've still got my house there.
And there's a kiwi that lives in my backyard and goes under our house every now and again. So I can lie in bed and listening to kiwi snuffling under the house, which is very cool. So that particular kiwi is my favourite animal.
[ERICA]: That's a good response, actually. So did you study conservation?
[BRENT]:I did actually, Erica. I went to Waikato University and did a Masters in Behavioural Ecology. And I ended up studying kaka, so in the Whirinaki Forest, which got me into conservation in a general sense. But I was almost wearing a white lab coat and going into the lab.
[ERICA]: Oh, really?
[BRENT]: I was in a program that was looking at possums, and whether we could disrupt the chemical trail between the uterus and the pouch in possums, because they're marsupials. The babies come out as about the size of baked beans. And they make their way up to the pouch to finish their growth.
And if we could disrupt that chemical trail, then it would—then they wouldn't be able to make it. And it was sort of a contraceptive for possums. But just about two months before I put the white lab coat on to start my career as a lab technician, the funding got pulled.
And the whole project fell over. So I was the only student left standing when they offered me this opportunity to look at kaka in the Whirinaki Forest. And I've never looked back. I'm so pleased I don't wear a white lab coat these days.
[ERICA]: So why is Predator Free important for Aotearoa?
[BRENT]: Predator Free is immensely important. I've spent over 20 years of my career implementing the last biodiversity strategy we had. And we failed. We failed.
The biodiversity strategy had a simple goal of reversing the decline-- not about thriving, not about doing really well, just stopping things going down the gurgler.
And we couldn't even achieve that over 20 years. And one of the main reasons for that is this predation of all these introduced predators that have come here, like possums and stoats and ferrets and weasels and the three species of rat.
And they're just eating our wildlife out from underneath us. And unless we manage to step change our approach and do something completely different, we're going to lose these things over time. So this is the sort of action you—
Predator Free is the sort of action you need to do to deliver thriving wildlife.
[ERICA]: You've talked about the treadmill of temporary control. Is that what we were doing in the biodiversity strategy, that kind of BAU approach, whereas now it's a completely different program?
[BRENT]: Yeah, we still do that. And that's really important, until we develop the skills and the techniques and the technology to achieve eradication and sustain it at scale. But that has been our approach in the past, is a treadmill of suppression.
So we knock things down. And we let them come back up a bit, and then knock them down again. Or we really intensively trap and control continuously. But you're continuously pumping effort into a place. And the pest animals respond to that, as well.
So they learn. They get better. So it just gets harder and harder and harder across time. It's not a long-term option for us, really. The opportunity ahead of us is to really just take that to another level.
And yet, you only have to go to any of our offshore islands where we have achieved eradication to see what it should look like, what it should feel like, what it should sound like. And then, you know, you come back going actually, this is what we need to do--
[ERICA]: And it's worth it.
[BRENT]: --across New Zealand, yeah.
[ERICA]: Or even where we haven't yet eradicated, but something like Rakiura where you've got a kiwi snuffling under your house.
[BRENT]: Yeah, we do. But unfortunately, Rakiura is stuffed as well. I'm so sad when I go down there. Around the town is good. The offshore islands are really good.
Where we do-- anywhere in New Zealand where we do predator control generally has got good wildlife, good lots of birds. But I remember going across to Doughboy Bay on Stewart Island-- this is when I really understood we needed to do something different here, because I spent two days at Doughboy Bay in one of the remote parts of Stewart Island.
And I only heard one tui over two days. And that was not-- and I wasn't just counting tui. I mean, of all the native birds I could hear, that was all I ran into in the bush in two days. And it was just-- they're just gone.
[ERICA]: That is devastating. So you've got a desk job now. But prior to that, you've got 25 years field experience on islands, boats, and pretty much everything in between. Tell me about one of your weirdest days at work.
[BRENT]: It's really hard to pick one.
[ERICA]: I bet.
[BRENT]: I've had lots of weird days at work. I was going down the Sub-Antarctics a few years ago. And we were taking Nick Smith and Gareth Morgan and Sam Morgan. And we were on the Navy trip.
And we hit this massive storm, where it was sort of like 25 meter seas. And they were breaking over the front of the boat. And the boat couldn't turn around, because it was-- because the wind and the waves were too big for it.
So we were just tracking slowly towards Tasmania while we waited. And in the middle of all that, most of the crew were sick. So they only had a skeleton crew on, the Navy. And then, the fire alarm went off.
And they thought there was a fire on board. And all the crew-- so the crew that they could muster-- were going in there. What had happened was one of the extinguishers had been smashed across the room, and gone off inside the area it was. But all the alarms went off in there and they're doing that.
And in the midst of all this chaos, I went up to the bridge and was sitting on the bridge. In the midst of all this chaos of humans in the Southern Ocean barely surviving, this pod of dolphins swam past us, just happy as anything in their element. And I just-- and I suddenly sat there realizing that, oh my gosh, this is-- we don't belong here.
[ERICA]: Just that we're doing it wrong.
[BRENT]: Yeah, we're not doing it right.
[ERICA]: Oh, that's pretty cool. Tell me another one.
[BRENT]: I'll tell you another one. So actually, when you encounter wildlife, creates some really weird days at work for you. And I remember once, I was the Duty Officer on Stewart island.
And I got a call from the policeman late that night that there was a sea lion on the road. And so, I had to go out and help him get the sea lion off the road.
And it's Stewart island. There's not much traffic. So it's not a big issue. But it's a black sea lion on a section of road with no lights or anything on it. So it's just this big, dark lump in the middle of the road. So it could have caused a bit of damage.
[BRENT]: So I got round there and hopped out of the truck. And you know, I took my brother with me. So my brother and the policeman were standing there.
And it was quite a big sea lion. It was one of those big males, about 300, 350 kilos.
[ERICA]: Not scary at all.
[BRENT]: Not scary at all. And so, I said, I asked who wanted to help me, but they weren't that keen. So they both sat in the truck, watching. And I got-- to move sea lions, you got to know what sea lions do.
Like, they're quite big. But they don't eat you. They're not-- you're not their prey. So I took a stick. And I was just tapping him on the side with a stick to try to be annoying enough that he would move. Just a little tap. It didn't hurt him.
So eventually, he got really tired of me. And he jumped up. And he's about-- probably about my height and when he raised himself up and charged me. But they always stop when they get to you.
So I was just standing there. And he stopped about half a meter short and flopped down again. So I just kept tapping him again. And it really winded him up.
And eventually, after a few sort of barks and carrying on, he huffed across the road, because he was just-- couldn't rest there, because I wasn't going to let him rest. So he was completely, completely sick of me. So I got him off the road, back on the beach, and left him in peace, which is great.
And then, I turned around and went back to the truck. And the policeman and my brother are both sitting there, wide-eyed, jaws slack. [LAUGHTER] Well, how on earth did you do that?
[ERICA]: Oh, my gosh. How do you know that it's not going to-- that it's going to stop?
[BRENT]: Oh, it's--
[ERICA]: Just from past experience?
[BRENT]: Just experience, just experience.
[ERICA]: That must be quite a first experience--
[BRENT]: Yeah, no, well it's--
[ERICA]: --when you say it's going to stop, ‘I’m being told it's going to stop!’
[BRENT]: There's thousands of sea lions on the Sub-Antarctic. And on Stewart Island, there's a new population down in Pegasus, as well. So that was one of the things I learned from one of my colleagues when we were sea lion monitoring down there.
You could just walk, you know, it was-- every time they-- the worst thing people do is they run away from them. Because then, it becomes like a game. And the sea lions chase them. But if you just stay still, they'll stop before they get to you. That's all bluff and buster.
[ERICA]: If you come across a sea lion, please don't prod it with a stick like Brent Beavan did, in order to get it off the road. But stand 20 meters away from it an d enjoy it from a distance.
I've also heard another not safe for home kind of story, that you stood on a sea lion once.
[ERICA]: Tell me about that.
[BRENT]: Absolutely. And you're right. Kids, please don't do this at home. This is a sort of-- this is-- I'm a professional. And I know what I'm doing around sea lions. But--
[ERICA]: With a stick.
[BRENT]: --but I had to purposely annoy it. So it's better people stand back and give them space, and let them lead their own lives. But I was on Campbell Island one day. And there's lots of sea lions on Campbell Island, you know. It's just there's lots.
But there's also really high tussock. And we had transferred teal down to Campbell Island. And I was moving them. We were taking the box and carrying them over to Northwest Bay, to release them over at that Bay.
And you get to the top looking down on Northwest, and it's beautiful. There's this big tussock slope rolling down. And everyone else is really scared of sea lions. So they're all behind me.
And they we're all heading through the tussock. So you're sort of slowly making your way down. But to give you a bit more of a concept, the tussock came up to about my chin.
So we're walking through like that, trying to see what happens. And I sort of felt the ground change underneath me. And I got two steps on this quite squishy bit of ground when it moved. And I suddenly realized that I'd just walked up the back of a sea lion.
And thankfully, it was facing away from me. And it got as big a fright as I did, because it took off at 100 miles an hour. And I found a new reverse gear and got backwards really, really quickly. And so thankfully, because we were both really scared, it was fine.
[ERICA]: So not one, but two steps on a sea lion.
[BRENT]: Two steps onto a sea lion, yeah. Well, yeah, what do you do?
[ERICA]: Prodding with sticks and standing on sea lions aside, is there another time, perhaps, that everything hasn't gone quite right in the field?
[BRENT]: Yeah, I mean, that's part and parcel of the work is things go wrong occasionally. I do try.
[ERICA]: And that's not a user issue?
[BRENT]: We do try not to have things go wrong, because if you're in a really remote spot they can be a bit fatal. So we're very, very careful in how we go about things. I mean, I've got a positive story of things going to-- that didn't quite go right that I'll—
[BRENT]: --tell you. I was catching--
[ERICA]: Because right now, you're sounding like a cowboy.
[BRENT]: I was out on Breaksea Island, catching mohua for transfer to Whenua Hou a few years ago, which was quite a cool job. Breaksea was one of the-- it was the first island they made predator free in New Zealand, the first big island. They did Maria Island, which is a small one.
But this was the first structured, baited, ground-baited approach to doing it. And it's really steep. It's quite an amazing island in Fiordland. And the wildlife on it is phenomenal.
So we can go in and actually catch some of the birds, and take them off to repopulate other spots there's so many. So I was catching mohua-- or yellowhead-- on the island. And we would struggle for days. And I was on top of the island.
And we'd only had 15 birds. And the helicopter was coming. And you normally want 30 to 50 to try to start a population. And we-- I was on the top of the island. And we're 15 minutes to go till we called it quits and the helicopter arrived.
I caught 30 mohua in one go. So they're in the net and they're everywhere. The only problem was, I didn't expect that. And there was only me. And I didn't have enough catch bags.
So I filled up all my catch bags. So we put the birds into little bags that protect them. And that way, we can transport them and carry them down and put them in a box to move them to another island.
So I took my socks off. And I stuffed some mohua in my socks. And I tied my sleeves up on my raincoat and put mohua in the raincoat. And every-- off every little pocket and everything I could do, I had filled with mohua.
And then, I had to line them in my pack and tie them around the pack and hold them close. But you can't hold 30 catch bags by yourself. So I had everything lined up. And then, I-- and the radio wasn't working, because the island is so steep you couldn't connect across it.
So the helicopter had come in by this point. And they were all down there. And I'm desperately stuffing all these birds in bags and folding them up--
[ERICA]: Could they not help?
[BRENT]: --shooing other birds away. Go away. And I got them all stuffed in. And then, I had to go down. It's a very steep track. It's like 45 degrees. So I have these 30 birds in pockets and bags and socks.
[ERICA]: Don't fall over.
[BRENT]: And I got down the bottom, just got the radio connection time to make them hold. And they held the chopper. We got them all out, banded them, put them in the boxes.
And you know, it was about 30, 40 minutes later than anticipated. But then, we got them all away. And we had a good population.
[ERICA]: And they successfully started a new population?
[BRENT]: We successfully started a new population on Whenua Hou. So Whenua Hou or Codfish Islands, where all the kakapo are? Another site where-- when you get rid of predators, you can have kakapo and more wildlife and things like that.
[ERICA]: Harder to stuff in your jacket.
[BRENT]: They are a bit harder to stuff in your jacket, but I'd give it a go.
[ERICA]: Wow. I'm sure you will. So you've had many conservation successes throughout your experience, 25 years. But can you think of one that tops the heap? What's your greatest conservation story?
[BRENT]: Oh, that's a tough question.
[ERICA]: It is a tough question.
[BRENT]: It is a tough question. In a bizarre way, the greatest conservation success I had was leaving Stewart Island. And it sounds a bit odd, but I had been on Stewart Island for 16 years, managing the wildlife and nature down there.
And I was the-- I had been a huge advocate for a Predator Free Stewart Island. We'd been working on that for all those 16 years. And what I'd failed to recognize was that it had-- I'd got too tied into it. And I had the ownership of it.
And so, therefore, the community didn't. And when I left, I'd say it was simply because, you know, the department got restructured and roles changed. And I got another role based out of Invercagill managing Stewart on the Sub-Antarctic.
When I left and was stepped out of that place, the community took it over. And the ownership shifted away from me to the community. And now, this year, it's done so well that we funded a million dollars into Stewart Island to do the operational planning for how will we go about achieving Predator Free Rakiura. So it's sometimes, you know, the thing that's put in front of you doesn't look like success at the time. But the way it pans out is actually really positive.
[ERICA]: That's fantastic. So it's like you passed the charger over. You're not just in there on the white charger fixing everything. You've handed it to the community. And they get to do it.
[BRENT]: Yeah, and it's a real lesson for me in how we approach Predator Free. Because it has to be owned by the communities and places. And they have to be driving what they want to see happen there. So we've built that right into the DNA of our strategy, and how we approach it, and how we want to do things.
[BRENT]: Right, yeah because it can't just be-- DOC can't just fix it. It has to take everyone. That's going to take everyone.
I think that's a real story of the change in conservation over the last 20 years, from when I started. When I started in conservation, it was very much DOC. You know, we're the experts. We do this work. And this is what we want to do.
But there's a limit to how much conservation you can do in that place. And over those 20 years I've been playing in this field, the change of ownership to the communities, and Iwi and whānau and hāpu and everyone being involved, is just really growing the amount of work that can be done. And I sit in the space where we got to get communities involved to get that buy-in and that understanding and that commitment, to try and to protect this special wildlife that's ours to look after.
[ERICA]: So do you think-- I mean, New Zealand does have this social capital around Predator Free. Why do you think that is?
[BRENT]: I think it's because it's really getable. Like, I work--
[ERICA]:Understandable or achievable?
[BRENT]: Understandable. All right, it's both. But it's the first time I've had a thing I'm working towards, within conservation, that people immediately understand. When I used to talk about ecosystem services, you had to take 10 minutes explaining it to everyone.
And it was just so challenging. And now, you're in this place where I go oh, we're doing Predator Free. And people go oh, I get that. And they also get what they can do to contribute towards it.
And it's really quite intuitive and easy. And people get on board. And it's such a good goal.
[ERICA]: It is such a good goal. Was there a moment that you saw that solidify in front of you, in terms of the community taking over?
[BRENT]: Yeah, there was a couple on-- there was a couple of moments on Stewart Island that particularly stand out in my mind. One was, I talked about kiwi, returning kiwi to the township. And it took a bit of time for people to grasp what was happening there.
And we used to have lots of roaming dogs. So it was a real struggle to deal with, because roaming dogs just take out all your kiwi. And as soon as we sort of got that under control a little bit and put kiwi in place, the community forced the dog ownership issue out.
Because they want a kiwi in their backyards, not someone else's dog. So the social pressure suddenly changed completely and re-framed how that operated. And I was down there last year. And I went into the pub and ran into a whole lot of people I knew from the time I lived there.
And they're all telling me kiwi stories. They're all going, oh, I saw four kiwi in my backyard the other day. I'd got sick of it. I wanted to talk about something else. But everyone was coming up to me talking about kiwi.
And I think the other one I-- the other example I saw, which was really strong on Stewart Island, was when we had rats come back onto Ulva Island. Ulva Island’s a Predator Free island and … it's really accessible. If you're going to Stewart Island, you should get Ulva Island. Beautiful spot and full of wildlife. And we got rats back on. And we've got a population of rats.
And we had to get-- well, we had to do another eradication to try to get rid of them. And it was the shift from the community being quite indifferent about Ulva 20, 30 years ago-- and Ulva's a special place to go, but eh-- to actually driving in behind and really advocating to get-- because they valued that wildlife. They valued those animals as part of their upbringing, where they went, what they wanted, and what was special to them.
But it was also, actually, a key part of the economy on Stewart Island, because so many of the guided walks had grown, the number of people, the water taxis. So they really swung in behind and had that sense. There was the ownership of the place that I really recognized, at that point. And I think that was the swing away from it being a DOC island to it actually-- this is our island, as a community.
[ERICA]: And they knew what the value was, because they'd seen what they could have there.
[BRENT]: Yeah, they'd seen it, breathed it, ate it, heard it, smelled it. You know, it's a very tangible thing.
[ERICA]: Is rat incursion likely to happen again? Is it close to Stewart Island?
[BRENT]: Yeah, it's within swimming distance. So a Norway rat can swim over a kilometer. So they're cunning little critters. They're a worthy challenge.
But the Island has now got a much better infrastructure on it. So they've got traps everywhere on that island. They try to capture animals as they come on.
But over time, it will get better and better. The investment we've got on Predator Free is starting to bring out new tools, new technology, new ways of detecting things, new ways of making sure you get rid of them really quickly. So this should become easier. And as we get onto the mainland sites-- and if we do the whole of Stewart Island, then invading rats onto Ulva won't be an issue.
[ERICA]: Something that's hard for us to think about is the seriousness of the threat to most species. But we are actually in dire straits. We've got 43 species of birds that have gone extinct in the last 800 years.
The reality is that a lot of them are at some kind of risk. You've talked about the treadmill of temporary control and that BAU approach not being what we can do anymore. What places or species are you really worried about at the moment?
[BRENT]: I'm worried about them all. That's part of the problem. All of our species evolved in the absence of most mammals. The only mammals that were on New Zealand were seals, sea lions, and bats.
So the thing about mammals is they hunt with scent. So they smell things. You know, watch dogs or cats hunting. Sight and scent are really important. So they can track things, and track them down and eat them.
When you've evolved with your only predator being an eagle or a morepork or something like that, then you freeze because they're hunting by sight. So you stay still and you camouflage. So you look at our native animals, and most of them-- you know, the kiwi, the kakapo-- they're really well-camouflaged.
And they fit into their environment. And they're almost invisible. Now, unfortunately, if that's your strategy and you freeze and an animal's hunting by scent and smell, then they just got no defence.
[ERICA]: You're making it easier for them.
[ERICA]: Here I am.
[BRENT]: They are. And the poor things just-- they're not evolved for that. And so, they don't stand a chance. It's not-- the only equilibrium that ever is going to get reached in New Zealand, if we just step back, is we will lose those things. And we will get lots of rats and possums and things like that.
So we need to take action. Otherwise, those things are going to die out. So can I pick a species? No. No, they're all valuable. They're all part of our identity.
They're all ours, as New Zealanders. And they're ours to look after. And if we lose them, they're gone. They're gone from the world.
[ERICA]: And even if you lose one, it can have such a devastating effect. Right?
[BRENT]: Yeah, well for lots of them, we just don't know what they-- we don't know what that'll be. We don't-- we don't know what its potential is in the future. But also, you lose its role within the forest and/or within the wherever it lives. And that will have impacts and it will have flow on.
But it's not just extinction. You know, we often think about losing, you know, losing those animals. And that's the end of it. But it's the loss of that genetic diversity that's really bad, as well.
So you imagine, when we used to have millions and millions of kaka all over New Zealand, you know, we used to have yellow ones and white ones and red ones. And you know, there's this massive amount of genetic diversity. And then, we've narrowed it down to quite a few. So we've lost a lot of their resilience, so their ability to respond to things like climate change or diseases that come into the country
Their ability to respond is really limited because of that loss of genetic diversity. So it's not about totally gone. It's even getting to low numbers is really bad.
[ERICA]: OK so, that genetic bottleneck creates just one extra thing, that cumulative effect of say climate change, say something that can just have a devastating effect.
[BRENT]: Yeah, well, imagine a population of humans, you imagine everyone you know. And you say, actually, we've got some horrible thing happened to the planet. And there's only going to be five of us left to repopulate the planet.
Well, you're going to get quite a different group of people evolving out of that. And their ability to respond to things is going to be really different. So that's what happens with those birds and geckos and lizards and everything else, as well.
And you get down low numbers, then their resilience is really low. The black robins are great example. You know, it got down to what was it, seven birds at some point. And you know, one female basically repopulated everything by herself.
But they're actually-- their breeding is really slow now. Compared to other birds, they produce very few offspring. And that's just an offspring of-- or an offshoot of having very low genetic diversity.
[ERICA]: Is that comparatively to how they used to be? So they used to breed what, a clutch every year or something and now, at least?
[BRENT]: New Zealand robins on the mainland can produce three clutches. And they can each have three or four chicks in them. So these guys are producing a very small number of individuals.
The same with saddleback, tīeke. They were-- the South Island tieke were on-- it got down to 30 individuals on one island. And we did some genetic work on those birds, oh about 10 years ago now. They're almost identical.
You know, we got thousands of them now on lots of offshore islands again, Predator Free islands. You can have tieke on them. But you can't have them anywhere where there's rats or stoats or possums. They just can't survive.
But these birds, they're almost identical. Now, if you get a if you get a disease or you get a drought or you get some other factor coming in like climate change that will cause variations in their habitat, their ability to survive is really limited because they just don't have the diversity.
[ERICA]: Yeah, they can't adapt as easily.
[BRENT]: They can't adapt as easily.
[ERICA]: So our predator problem is largely a product of colonization. Right? It's not all predators came with European settlers, but ship rats and mustelids did. What can we learn from that?
Well, that's a provocative statement, I think. But you're right. It is colonization when we – it has caused this problem. And it was the mindset at the time, as well, that you know, you just brought a bit of old England across to settle it into the new country.
[ERICA]: The British of the South, that's what they wanted to create.
[BRENT]: Yeah, that was the-- and that's, you know, you can't look back and blame them. They were just-- that was the mindset of the day. And they were trying to set up something that they were comfortable with. But gosh, the impact on the country has been phenomenal. And what do we end up with? Stoats and ferrets to control rabbits.
[ERICA]: It's like a lady eating the fly kind of mentality.
[BRENT]: And it also flies in the face of ecology, because it's not predators that control prey. That's funnily enough, it's prey that controls predators. And you've got to think of it like lions on the Serengeti. As the lion numbers are dictated by the number of zebras—
[ERICA]: Supply and demand.
[BRENT]: --the zebra numbers aren't dictated by the number of lions. So yeah, it's food supply that dictates animal numbers. And that's where we go. So that's a bit of an aside. So it's always prey that dictates predator numbers.
So we've got all these species as a byproduct of colonization, and the use mentality that went with that. So possums were brought over for fur. You know, so we put the-- it didn't really matter about the impact, because there was an industry we could set up and run.
And I think we're probably on the cusp of moving to quite a different sort of mentality. It's quite a how do humans-- it's humans recognizing themselves as part of nature, and intrinsically linked to the systems of the Earth that are supported by nature.
[ERICA]: And that kind of reciprocity--
[ERICA]: --of the land.
[BRENT]: Well, I think we see that with the climate change issues, as well. You know, we're causing them. And that's impacting on the planet, and then impacting back on us as people. So we've got to get into this very new space we think of ourselves as part of the system, and we have a much more aligned with the Māori world view that we're part of it and we have to look after it, because it is our life supporting system.
[ERICA]: And you've talked about kaitiakitanga in terms of .. we need the science and innovation for Predator Free. But you're also looking back over centuries and the customary values. Is that right?
[BRENT]: Yeah, we're trying to really build that into how we're working. And I do love the idea in Māoridom that we're related to everything, that we whakapapa to not just the land but the creatures, you know, that are our whānau. And that relates to science, because if you follow everything back genetically, we all do link at some point.
So there is some science sitting behind that concept and that idea. But if you think of that idea that gosh, these are our brothers and sisters and things we're related to, then maybe it just gives you a bit more of a drive to get connected to that.
[ERICA]: We'll take better care of it.
[ERICA]: as well.
[BRENT]: And I do like, you know, that mātauranga, it's the knowledge that's been an environment for 600 years. So it can tell us about patterns of behaviour or things that have been observed. Or gosh, when you're setting out on a journey like Predator Free, you want to grab as much knowledge and understanding as you can. And I think it would be silly to ignore offerings from anyone, at this point in time.
[ERICA]: So is Predator Free 2050 possible? Can we do it?
[BRENT]: Of course, we can. Of course, we can. We've mapped it all out. So the strategy breaks us into sort of a number of functional pathways. And we've logic mapped them to death. We know what we have to do now to set us up to be in the place to deliver Predator Free in 2050. And it's just really, it's that technical issues. And we can solve those.
They're not a challenge. –Oh, well, they are a challenge. But they're easy to-- you know, you get engineers involved. You get scientists involved. And if you get the focus on it, you can really shift our technology into the right place.
The bit that is the harder challenge is the people.
So it’s the social issues, and the understanding, and getting people on board, and understanding that we might have to go onto their land or change their lifestyle slightly. So that's always-- there's always a social element that is much more challenging than the technical element.
But if the people buy into it, we can solve those technical issues. There's no problems about that.
[ERICA]: Since Brent had so many great stories, we’ve cut his interview into a bumper two part episode.
In part two we’ll be talking about innovations such as AI and smart devices, sensor pads, infra-red cameras and long-life lures. Plus, we’re taking on the tougher topics: 1080, cats and how we keep our staff safe.
Part two will be out next month.
Subscribe so you don’t miss it.
[MUSIC PLAYS OUT]
[NORTHERN BROWN KIWI CALL]
Episode 12: Marine Magic
Anton van Helden is a marine scientist by day moonlighting as a magician by night, although one could make the point that magic never sleeps. Anton has over 30 years of experience working with and studying marine mammals – before he worked for us, he was at Te Papa. Now, Anton works as a science advisor in our Marine Species Team, assigned to looking after Māui and Hector's dolphins. In this episode, you’ll hear talk of strandings, the subants, toxoplasmosis, pub statistics, and climate, as well as working with iwi on recovery of bones.
Abracadabra, are you listening closely?
Te reo Māori translation:
- Kia ora! Ko Erica Wilkinson tēnei. He kōnae ipurangi tēnei, e pā ana ki ngā Sounds of Science.
Hi! My name is Erica Wilkinson and this is a podcast about Sounds of Science.
- Kia ora! Ko Anton tōku ingoa.
Hello! My name is Anton.
The music used in this episode:
- Let’s Get Down to Business by Cast of Characters.
This episode contains specific discussion of dissection which some listeners may find graphic. We kept it reasonably high level. This content warning applies to 8 mins 3 secs to 11 mins 22 secs.
And we also talk about taonga and why dissections are important for iwi at 23 mins 25 secs.
Transcript for episode 12
[ERICA]: Kia ora, I’m Erica Wilkinson, New Zealand’s Acting Threatened Species Ambassador. And this is the DOC Sounds of Science Podcast.
Every episode we talk about the work being done behind the scenes by DOC's technical experts, scientists, rangers, and the experts in between.
Kia ora, I'm Erica Wilkinson, New Zealand's acting Threatened Species Ambassador, and this is the DOC "Sounds of Science" podcast.
Kia ora! Ko Erica Wilkinson tēnei. He kōnae ipurangi tēnei, e pā ana ki ngā Sounds of Science.
Today's guest has over 30 years experience working with and studying marine mammals. Welcome, Anton. It's great to have you on the show.
Kia ora Erica. Ko Anton tōku ingoa.
Hi Erica, My name is Anton, and I work for the Department of Conservation.
Kia ora And tell me a bit about your role at DOC.
So I'm the science advisor in the Marine species team, assigned to looking after Māui and Hector's dolphins.
Fantastic. And how are the Māui and Hector's dolphins at the moment?
Well, it's a little bit variable. We've got one of the most critically endangered small dolphins on the planet in the form of the subspecies, which is Māui Dolphins. And we have Hector's dolphin, which although on the surface may look to be thriving at some 15,000 animals, is split up into a whole bunch of little subpopulations which are doing better or worse, depending on where they are.
Really? And you were just telling me that you're working on an abundance survey.
We will be next year in the second year of our genetic mark recapture abundance survey to create an estimate on the population of Māui Dolphins. So this has been running every five years, and each survey, because it's a marked recapture-- that is, we capture information in the first year and compare that to information in the second year to be able to derive an estimate-- and so they have two years every five years. So we're now third lot-- third round of those. Yeah.
If that makes sense. And that means that by the end of next year, we will have a new estimate for the Māui dolphin population. Currently, we're working on the basis of there being 63 Māui dolphins over the age of one, give or take.
Right. Wow. And what brought you there? How did you get started in this field?
So I was interested in whales and dolphins from-- I'm going to say the age of two. I have a memorable event when crossing the Cook Strait on the Interislander Ferry, or as it was then, the Picton Ferry, known as the Aramoana. So I was crossing on the Aramoana with my mum-- it was a very rough crossing-- and I was a bit green around the gills.
And my mum took me outside to get a breath of fresh air, and there in the waves were a bunch of dolphins leaping about as if bad weather didn't mean anything to them. And so I was pretty much hooked from that point on. And on television, of course, there was Jacques Cousteau, who was an inspiration to so many of us.
And we all had our favourite phrases, and so I imagined that at some point in my life that I would be--
With the Red Hat.
I'm here with my red beanie. In fact, I'm working on a-- I'm also an Illustrator, so I'm working on a little story called "Shark Cousteau," which is about a great white shark who wears a little red beanie and wears glasses after--
Oh, I love it.
--their childhood hero. So those are things that I want to do is to come up with silly things to convey stories about our natural world, and that's part of who I am.
That's fantastic. I can't wait to read the-- or to see the book when it comes out.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
So there was a list of things that you wanted to be when you grew up?
I had a list when I was about four of things that I wanted to be. Certainly the top four was to be a whale scientist, to be a cartoonist, to be a magician, and to be a chef. And the chef bit is the only one I haven't really done-- well, got paid to do.
I feel like, when I grew up, I wanted to do either musical theatre or working with animals, and I've somehow found something that kind of lets me do them both, but DOC ask me not to sing all the time. But what I was thinking was you've got very separate paths, like magician and working at DOC. Can you tell me about your other career?
Well, I think that all of these things knit together in some ways, right? Because there are ways for us to interact with our world and interact with other people. They all involve storytelling and inquiry. We investigate our world in all sorts of different ways. And so learning about magic and how people react and respond to magic is also an inquiry into their psychology and how they interface with their perceptions of reality.
In a similar way, when we look at the Marine environment, for example, people don't have a direct understanding of how whales work or their place in the Marine environment. So we're in a business of having to interpret that for them and to inquire of that so that we can provide information in a way that not only makes sense, but that encourages them to care about them. Yeah. And ultimately, that's a big chunk of what we have to do is to-- how to get people to care.
And that brings me back, probably, to one of my greatest influences as a little kid was going along to I think I was three. We went to the Muritai School fair, and in the Muritai School hall they showed a film of The Lorax. And that pretty much entrenched in me, unless someone cares a whole awful lot, nothing's going to change. It's not.
There's something tantalizing and magical about working with animals that you almost never see, right? So we have the perception of whales, but we also have-- and dolphins, right? Dolphins are small-toothed whales, just in case you get-- you stumble over that kind of little taxonomic problem.
So we engage with these things. We try and understand them and interpret how they live in the ocean so that we can do something about protecting them, but we are having to infer a lot from pretty scant little pieces of information. So much of what we know is just gleaned from a dead animal washed up on a beach. I mean, I had high and mighty ideals of being on the front of a boat, wearing a red beanie, and ta-da, there are the whales and--
--that's what it was all going to be about. But my real love for whales developed more so when I started working at the National Museum when I was 18.
Mm-hmm. So you must have some sort of magic meets DOC kind of stories. Do they do they ever--
I guess I have magic meets conservation stories, right? And magic meets whale stories. I have a colleague at MPI who loves Bayesian statistics, and I perform every week at the Green Man Pub. And so they came along to see me perform, and I'm no Bayesian statistician. And this character loves all that detail and loves how all that works, and for me that's kind of magical.
But anyway, at the pub, there I get to perform magic for him. And it was one of those joys of being able to, at the end of the day. So he's going, how is that even possible?
He's like, it's just maths. It's just maths. Which, of course, it wasn't, but that we don't need to tell him that.
But it's magic, obviously.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. That's right.
But the idea that you could-- we could play that little game was--
That you can have that interactive.
--was kind of pleasing.
And you must have a million stories about your oddest things that you've had to do.
Oh, yeah. So over the years, I've collected a number of whale skeletons for the museum. And that's brought me into some pretty unusual situations, not least of all dealing with rotting carcasses, right? It's not everybody's cup of tea. I'd never say it should be anybody's cup of tea, quite frankly.
But memorably my first sperm whale that we-- that I cut up with Ramari Stewart. We were down on the West Coast of at Hector, on the West Coast of the South Island. Ultimately, we never got that specimen for the museum, so there's a whole other story.
But we had spent-- we arrived-- it was one of those things where we're being told, oh, yes. There's accommodation on site, which turned out to be a tent with no ground sheet on a beach. So we didn't have a lot of facilities going for us.
But anyway, we were into cutting up this whale with the tools that we had. This was-- for Ramari and myself, this was our first whale, our first sperm whale that we'd ever cut up. And so we were-- we had set with the challenge, first of all, of removing the jawbone.
Now there's a lot of public attention when there is a jawbone. A sperm whale, particularly a large male-- this was a 15.3 metre male sperm whale, and they have large teeth. And so when things have large teeth, they attract a lot of attention.
Anyway, it took us the best part of a day to remove that jaw with the knowledge we had at the time. Now with some wonderful other DOC staff and things, I think the record is four minutes for removing a jawbone.
I hope there's a competition for that.
I seriously hope there's not. I think people just need to be really cautious about what they do. It's more about doing it right than doing it quick.
But the-- but anyway, it took us-- by the end of it, we were pretty exhausted. It was what we call a dry whale. That's where all the blubber-- a lot of the oil has gone from it. It's very fibrous, just really a lot of connective tissue, so it's quite hard to cut through.
And anyway, the jaw had gone and so had most of the crowds. But by the morning of day two we faced the enormously bloated beast on the beach. And we knew that if we were going to progress anything at all, we would have to essentially off gas the animal. That is, that we would have to cut along the belly of the beast and take it as it comes.
Well, the joy of this is that there was a local videographer who set up his tripod downwind from where we were and was filming the whole event. So somewhere out there, there is video of this. But Ramari and I were cutting along the belly of the beast and those fibers are tearing and snapping and-- [CLICKING NOISES] --and little farty noises are coming out as this-- and we can feel it.
It's going to go. It's going to go. And Ramari and I looked at each other and went, yeah, she's going to blow.
We nip it and run, right? So we nicked the thing and took off, and it erupted. It was just an audible boom as the animal exploded, then slowly drifted downwind towards where the videographer was, who then grabbed his mouth with one hand and his tripod with the other and disappeared into the dunes.
And we never saw him again. We heard him for a little while, but we didn't see him again. But anyway that was-- that's learning on the job.
So you've been a bit of time in the sub-Antarctics. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Well, my first experience of going to the sub-Antarctics was in 1995. We were all gunning to go, and we went down on this German tour boat. So it's one of these nice associations with tourism that they will take DOC staff or scientists down to these--
--these remote places, right? And in exchange, I guess the people get to go ashore or to have a look around.
So we get on board, and it's just exquisite. You mentioned, we sit down for dinner the first night and there's cutlery as far as your arms could reach on either side and everything was just amazing. And the next morning at breakfast there were pastries, and it was about as high-end as I had ever experienced in my life.
And coming from the tent on the beach, as well, you know?
It's a very--
So there's real contrasts in this job. You got to take them as they come.
Well, talk about taking it as they come. The next night we got stuck in a storm south of-- so we left from Lyttleton, and we-- the next night we were South of Stewart Island, and we got caught in a horrendous storm.
I think it was like Beaufort 12 for 12 hours or something, 75 knot winds, 14 metre seas, And we were rolling at over 50 degrees, so it was pretty dreadful. And a real experience for me. I'd never really been out on the-- out to sea at all. And anyway, my cabin mate, Rob Matlin who sadly no longer with us, gave me the nickname the barkingseal after that experience.
The interesting thing is we had a-- there was a Danish captain. And every time we were going to roll-- he was obviously aware that this was going to happen-- he would come over the intercom and go, hold on. Hold on. And so all through the night we heard this.
And not a single thing was bolted down in the cabin, so the beds were sliding and everything. We were holding on to-- I was holding on to a corner of the mattress. Meanwhile, Rob Matland was trying to keep me cheerful by zipping backwards and forwards across the floor on his bum, just sliding backwards and forth.
But halfway through the night, because this is just treacherous, treacherous, we hear the Danish captain comes and goes, is there a dentist on board? And he goes, oh, no. And we had this vision of them sending out one of these workers out to finally paint one of the-- something on the outside of the boat or something.
But anyway, they're going down to Antarctica. Yes, we were being dropped off en route, but they're going down to Antarctica and someone's got smashed teeth. This is just too-- it was too hard.
But as a consequence of the storm, they decided they'd taken too much time and so they didn't drop us off at Enderby Island where we were supposed to be dropped off. So perhaps in a roundabout way with some good fortune, I was a castaway on Campbell Island.
Oh, my gosh.
So they dropped us off at Campbell island, which, thankfully, it was the last year there was a manned weather station at Campbell Island so we had somewhere to be. And a character called Gerry Clarke who had a little boat called the Totorore was-- had been with a little crew counting birds around the Auckland Islands. And he dropped his crew at Enderby, where we were supposed to be and soloed down to pick us up in what was-- I don't know-- 6 and 1/2 meter bilge-keeler yacht.
So it's a one time in my life seen this little boat come up the harbor, I thought, I don't want to go out. And I've just been out in an enormous boat, you know? But that's the thing. But that took us-- that took me to the subants for the first time.
Wow. What an experience. I'm desperate to know what the dental issue was, but I guess we never found out.
We don't know.
Yeah. Unresolved in my mind, too. Yeah.
So you work with dolphins a lot. You must deal with the toxoplasmosis situation. Can you tell me about that?
Yeah. So that's a really interesting and complex issue, right? Because here we have Hector's and Māui dolphins that are dying from a disease which really is only present in New Zealand because of cats.
Just boggles the mind.
Yeah, yeah. And so it's-- to go to somebody and say, the dolphins are dying because of cats, it's just too big a jump for people to--
They can't picture it.
--understand. But we need to understand that it's a parasite, right? Cats aren't going out killing dolphins. There's nothing willful about it on the part of the cat.
But the cats carry this parasite called toxoplasma gondii, and it only replicates sexually in the guts of cats. Cats are its definitive host--
--which means that in the cats, in the cat's gut, they reproduce by creating-- by making lots of oocysts, or eggs, if you like. Yeah. And these are distributed out into the wild through the cat's feces and from there into waterways, into soil, and ultimately into the marine environment where it can get into the dolphin. So that's an interesting pathway, right?
So do the eggs have to stay active in-- during that path?
So the amazing thing about this-- this has probably has been described as one of the most successful parasites on the planet.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
It's not a good--
Yeah, yeah. You hope it would be the most fragile--
--most easily extinguished-- no. It's the most successful parasite on the planet. And these oocysts can persist and not just in fresh water and soil, but in saltwater in the marine environment for at least a year, maybe longer. And in soil for-- at least for a couple of years. So this is a-- it's a challenging, challenging thing for us to manage, because effectively it's a diffuse pollution problem.
I see. And so what's the answer? I mean, what do we need to tell cat owners or--
Firstly, let's face it. It's not the cats.
It's the parasite. So we're managing the parasite. But to manage the parasite, we have to consider how we manage cats. We have very limited ways in which we can affect change around cats. And there's obviously a lot of-- has been historic political--
She's a contentious issue.
--issues around cat management.
So there's a certain degree, if we know, that if you keep your cat inside, if you keep your cat contained and you feed it dry cat food, that it's not going out and eating pest populations of rats and mice or birds that can also carry it. Because toxoplasma can get into any warm-blooded creature, right?
And the thing that-- I mean, here's the joyous thing. For example, it does creates behavioral change in mice so that when they get the toxoplasma, it makes them less-- it makes them less risk averse and seek out cat urine smell. So mice then willfully wander in and look out for their predator.
Oh my gosh.
He's saying eat me, eat me. So we've got to-- there's a whole lot of different parts of this equation that somehow we need to bring together to manage. So if we say what can we do around managing cats? That's part of the issue. We have feral cat populations that homeowners can do very little about, but we have some responsibility for on--
On public conservation land.
--on public conservation land that-- that also the councils have some responsibility for, but also we have the issue of it getting into our waterways. So, for instance, if you're at home, you don't want to flush your cat's poos down the loo because that's an instant pathway into--
--into the water system, right? Well, it's not necessarily going to get to the dolphin, because there's all sorts of other things that we can possibly do along the way, like riparian planting and other things that could affect change. But the sad thing-- another challenge is that waste water-- so stormwater is one thing, but wastewater is another-- is that there is currently no mechanism that will kill the oocysts.
So all the things that we do to our sewage to-- whether it be UV light or chlorination, doesn't affect the oocysts one jot. So this is a really--
They're so powerful.
Oh, yeah. This is a really gnarly little thing.
And the point is that one cat-- we call it a shedding event so that-- and it's most likely that when they're a kitten, they get infected by the parasite. And then they-- it reproduces in the gut of the cat, and it releases all these oocysts into the environment. And a single cat can produce-- apparently, one cat was recorded producing a billion oocysts. It takes one oocyst to infect the dolphin.
But at the moment, one of our biggest problems is that we don't understand these pathways well enough or how to-- even it's challenging to measure the amount of toxo in a given body of water, right? So we know that there are things that we could do that are likely to have some benefit to the dolphins, but we can't expressly show that it will have a benefit.
For example, the population of Māui dolphin is so small that even if you did make-- you were making positive benefit, seeing it reflected in an increasing dolphin population would be hard to see over any small measurable period of time.
And they only breed every two to four years as well, don't they, or something like that. So it's a long game.
Yeah, yeah. This is-- it's a real long game thing. But we have to act quickly, because we need to reduce the risk.
OK. So it's more of a research side at the moment and needing to act quickly, but are there ways that we're getting better at marine mammal help? Are we-- is technology changing the game at all?
I look at what we've achieved in the recent TMP, and we're seeing massive extensions to our marine mammal sanctuaries and that--
That's a win. We've seen extensions to fisheries protections, although that's something governed by MPI. But in total that's quite something.
But if we look at making change and conservation, it's not about a silver bullet.
When I look at the toxo situation, there's not one thing that we just go, OK. It's very easy when you're outside of that-- outside of those processes to say, all you need to do is, right?
Like, all you need to do is get rid of the cats. All you need to do is stop fishing. All you need to do-- well, it's not an all you need to do answer. There's no silver bullet. It's--
And a lot of those things are little incremental gains that make up a whole. And so trying to work and pull together those collaborations, whether it be with other government agencies or with regional councils, but also with Iwi who have a really-- we have an absolute commitment to-- they're our treaty partners, and that's a big part of this conversation.
It's another thing to have those conversations. How do you make those things work? And that's a thing that we, as DOC, are working at. It's-- I'd hardly say it's a thing we've got right. But we have a-- not just an obligation, but a real desire--
Yeah. “To give effect” [to the principles of the Treaty].
--to bring effect. And do what we say we will do.
We've got a really strong rhetoric around relationship, but you have to relate to have relationship. And it's how you build that as a-- some of those things are hard won.
Yeah. And is that why you were removing the jaw and teeth from the whale to-- for Tangata Whenua?
Yeah. So in that case, we were in a situation where we were wanting to collect the entire skeleton for the museum. But those are particular taonga that have really strong value/meaning, partly through because of the nature of the bone itself. That—you know, I once had this conversation, yes, you might want to collect the jawbone of a whale, but why would you want to collect the other parts?
But I've come to understand that when it comes to somebody's rights or vision of what they want to do with their animal, that's not my call. Right? You can equally carve pumice as you can carve beautiful, dense whalebone found pretty much only in the jawbone or teeth of a sperm whale. So there's different ways to approach it, but it's always around that conversation.
But we've collected a lot of jaw bones over the years--
--to have those discussions and to-- we've had a lot of talks, sat around, had a lot of cups of tea with people to really talk through what these animals, what value they place in them. Not just as animals, but--
As taonga. As ancestors.
As ancestors! Yes.
So it's a very real thing. It's one thing to go and-- I remember having this great conversation. You have to think very carefully about whether you want to collect a whale, what your responsibilities are to that animal.
For instance, talking with Manawhenua Ki Mohua in Golden Bay and we wanted to collect a whale, and we agreed that we would collect the whole whale or none of it, initially. So if you imagine, it's quite simple to cut the head of a small whale and collect that as frozen freight. But if you were thinking, yeah, that's my grandmother.
Yeah, I don't want to do that.
No, I don't want to do that. I want to treat that with all the possible respect that I can.
And that we want to retain and build that relationship, so there's an ongoing relationship between the Iwi, the Tangata Whenua, and their taonga. And it's something that I carry with me all the time.
When I think of the ideas of Mana Taonga, what it meant for me in terms of building an ongoing relationship with Tangata Whenua. it really encapsulates this idea of-- that we talk about within DOC and elsewhere, obviously but whakawhanaungatanga. Which is that we are coming together. We are building an ongoing relationship to build for a greater purpose--
And building it together.
--and building it together.
We can't do it on our own.
Right? There's no way that DOC can achieve what it needs to do on its own. Those relationships are fundamental.
Absolutely. So over 80 years, the temperature has been rising. In alpine areas, rats and mice don't get limited by the same temperature restrictions and they are moving up, so that's bad news for our alpine birds. But what do we know about the potential impact of climate change on marine mammals?
This is an issue which we are grappling with and we will continue to grapple with for some time. We've seen these hot water events, if you like, with incursions of very warm water coming into an area, and that can change the distribution and upset the apple cart for all sorts of things. So that was notable off the coast of Taranaki with the blue whale research that was going on there.
And let's bear in mind that that's essentially the same habitat that Māui dolphin live in, right? But there are processes in the ocean, which are driven by ocean currents which are dependent on climate.
I mean if we look at the history of whales, it's tied in closely with changes in climate. But now we're getting it happening at a radical pace. The evolution of whales is tied to the opening up of the southern oceans, the changes in seasonal abundance of krill.
And at the moment we're seeing an expansion of sea ice, but we'll see a reduction in sea ice. That's what climate scientists tell us. And with that you'll see a reduction in areas where krill can breed, because they lay their eggs on the bottom of the sea ice. But they could really upset the balance for large migrating whales that are dependent on that tremendous seasonal abundance.
But it can also-- there may be changes to current systems and upwelling, areas and so loss of productivity in those areas, loss not just-- and not just temperature, but also ocean acidification where you may get changes in how prey develop, right? So soft bodied organisms, even squid that have these little things called statoliths that are seen to be altered by changes in temperature and chemistry. And that changes how they orient themselves in the water column, and that may impact on squid populations that enormous numbers of species are dependent on.
That we may see-- this idea that animals can just move to where it's-- marine mammals are big. They can move to wherever there's food. But they are going to try and be where it's viable for them to be, but that may also expose them to other risks.
The best thing we can do is try and do what we can to stop anthropogenic climate change. Our role, really, is to mitigate other impacts on their environment. The more we can reduce the risks from man-made activities on these animals, the better chance they have of being able to handle these sorts of events.
What's something about your work that you wish everyone knew? What can we, at home, do to help marine mammals?
If people could understand that it's a really complex job that we all have to, if we can contribute positively towards it. There's a lot of negativity that makes the job harder, to be fair. And I don't know what the-- quite how to resolve that, but I do know that it's quite different being inside government to being outside of it.
If there are carcasses that come ashore washed up on the beach, can we find out about them in enough time for them to be in a fresh enough state for us to be able to do necropsies and to really determine cause of death?
And as sad and as horrible as that may sound--
It's so necessary
--as I said before, it's one of the only opportunities we have to look at them.
So if there are animals dying and coming up on the beach, we need to be able to find them as quickly as we can. So when people are vigilant around their pieces of coastline, but also not just dead animals but also sightings. For example, on the East Coast of the North Island, we get sporadic sightings of Hector's dolphins.
For instance, DOC has an app, a sightings app, for Hector's and Māui's dolphins. And so you can use that--
And use it.
--and report. And when we get reports of these animals, that allows us to take other management decisions.
OK. And so I've got the app. I've downloaded it, and then what am I looking for?
Then you're looking for a little Mickey Mouse fin swimming past you, right? So Mickey Mouse-shaped dorsal fin. Mickey Mouse-- that's not quite right. Mickey Mouse-eared shaped dorsal fin.
Not the whole thing.
Not the whole animal. No, no. Not the whole mouse. That would be really odd. No.
But we tend to say that it's got a rounded dorsal fin, but I think lots of people look at a dolphin fin and go, it's rounded. But they are looking at just the leading edge.
Comparatively to a shark, I guess.
Yeah, yeah. But if we're talking about the whole shape of the dorsal fin, it's like a little Mickey Mouse ear.
Proper little round dorsal fin.
And that's both Māui and Hector's.
I found-- yeah, anyone would struggle to determine whether it's a Hector's or Māui's dolphin based on looking at an animal in the wild. We are looking at genetic differences primarily to determine whether it's a Māui dolphin or not.
Fantastic. Thank you so much for coming to talk to us today, Anton. I've learned so much, and I feel-- yeah. This is very cool. Thank you.
You are most welcome.
That's all for this episode. If you like what you heard, show us some love with a five-star rating. The DOC "Sounds a Science" podcast is available wherever you get your podcasts, so subscribe now, never miss an episode.
[MUSIC PLAYS OUT]
Episode 11: The best bits so far
In honour of Conservation Week, we’ve put together a supercut of all our favourite moments from the past ten episodes. Lichens, bats, kākāpō sperm helmets (we couldn’t make this up), GPS, poo patches and more – this episode is packed to the brim with stories from all of our previous guests.
The birdsong used in this episode is the pīwakawaka/fantail.
Te reo translation:
- Kia ora! Ko Erica Wilkinson tēnei. He kōnae ipurangi tēnei, e pā ana ki ngā Sounds of Science.
- Hi! My name is Erica Wilkinson and this is a podcast about Sounds of Science
The music used in this episode:
- Let’s Get Down to Business by Cast of Characters
- Business or Pleasure by Avocado Junkie.
Transcript for episode 11
[ERICA]: All conservationists have great stories to share, but none quite like Kate McInnes, our DOC Vet.
Kate has one of the most unique jobs in the world: treating our native species and advising on their care. She’s passionate about veterinary teamwork, and she had some wise words of caution for us about feeding native birds (spoiler: don’t).
She’s invented -- and modelled -- kākāpō sperm helmets, traumatised strangers with her work photo gallery, and taught people all over New Zealand about the cumulative impact of things like disease or increased predation.
And she’s got the stories to prove it.
We spoke to Kate in episode two, and she had us in stitches.
[KATE]: So this was a genuine and serious conservation tool, okay? So let's just put that out on the table first.
[NIC]: Don't believe you.
[KATE]: We wanted to find out if kākāpō were duds or studs. So we had a bunch of boys who had never managed to father a baby, and we didn't know if they were fertile or not. And so we wanted to get sperm and have a look at it.
And one of the ways they do that in other endangered species programs -- so it's not something I made up -- is if they have an imprinted boy who thinks he's actually a human, he will come down and try and mate with people.
And they've done this with kestrels. I think it was the Mauritius Kestrel, where they would wear a hat and the boy would bonk the head and they could collect the sperm.
It was like-- it sounded very simple.
So we thought well, the Mauritius Kestrel, I think, is about 250-300 grams. It's really light. A kākāpō is four kilos. And we had one in our sights-- Sirocco, the spokesbird of New Zealand conservation.
I wasn't prepared to have a four kilo kākāpō sitting on a little hat on my head. And I thought the hat might fall off. So I decided that a rugby helmet would be the way to go. And this is New Zealand rugby-- I'm going to embrace it.
So I went down to the shop, bought a rugby helmet, and I thought it's not very attractive. And if he does produce the goods, it's just going to fall off. So I got a big tube of silicon sealant and I covered the hat with silicone and then I made little rings of silicon.
So there were little wells where the business could be done and I could collect it afterwards.
[NIC]: You made the helmet.
[KATE]: I made the helmet in the backyard of my Berhampore house, one sunny afternoon.
[NIC]: That is amazing.
[KATE]: So then we took it down to the island and we went and visited Sirocco, and he got very excited by the whole business. And so for about three nights in a row, I was out there in the evening with him bonking my head. He's quite heavy.
He goes on for a very long time. He grunts the whole time he's doing it. And he didn't produce a thing!
So I'm not sure if that concept was a failure, or he just didn't like how we'd done it, or if he just was never actually going to do it. But yeah. So then, we ended up with a photograph of it, and Te Papa heard about it, and were doing a big exhibit on New Zealand, and we gave them the helmet.
[ERICA]: Colin O’Donnell knows everything there is to know about pekapeka/bats and he’s accumulated some wild stories in the name of science.
He’s encountered popping bats, game-changing technology, tiger prints and gelatinous excretions – which is exactly as gross as it sounds.
Here’s Colin in episode 8.
[NIC] So what is the problem for bats when it comes to wind farms?
[COLIN] Unfortunately, yeah, globally, there's obviously lots of wind farms. And people have been identifying, for quite some time, lots of dead bats under wind turbines.
And it is a global problem that turbines can kill bats. And for a long time, people thought, well, the blades are striking the bats and killing them. But it turns out to be a much more interesting and complex story than that. [LAUGHS]
What happens with wind turbines is that they heat the air. And insects like warmth, and so they get attracted to them. And the bats get attracted to them and feed around the blades.
And there's a Canadian study where they use thermal imagery where you can see the bats actually flying around the curve of the blade, catching insects.
[NIC] In the warm microclimate.
[COLIN] And so again, the bats have amazing skill, I suppose, with the echolocation. And they know the turbine blade's there, and they can fly around it, even how fast the blade is sweeping down.
But the problem is a thing-- the problem is that the blade, at certain wind speeds, creates a change in barometric pressure. And the bats flying around the blade at that time pop. It explodes on the inside--
--from the change in pressure. And it's not funny for the bat.
[NIC] No, it's not funny. It just sends outrageous. Is it like when you dive too deep, and you get the bends, and you explode?
[COLIN] Yeah, I don't know about that.
But it's called barotrauma. And yeah, it will be something like that. So what people are starting to do, though, is figure out, are there bats at my wind farm, and then curtail the activity of the turbines at the times the bats are there.
And overseas, especially in Germany, they're starting to put bat detectors actually in the turbines themselves. And they figure out the conditions when bats are most likely to be there.
And they, basically, program the turbines to switch off when the bats are around.
So it's actually not an insurmountable problem. It's a problem, certainly in New Zealand, we really haven't thought about until recently.
And hopefully, we end up with lots more wind farms in New Zealand in the future.
But we need to, firstly, place them in places where there aren't bats. And there's a hell of a lot of New Zealand doesn't have bats in it.
So think about putting your wind farm in the right place. And then, if it is a batty place, then figure out ways of identifying when the bats are there and turning the turbines off for that period of time.
[ERICA]: Some of these stories might be new for our more recent subscribers -- hello and welcome by the way! -- but perhaps not as new to your ears as Hannah Hendriks, our Marine Species Support Officer, and first ever podcast guest.
Hannah is our go-to for all things marine management. Whale in the harbour? We talk to Hannah. Stranding somewhere? Let’s find Hannah. Research and collaboration with other experts? Hannah will know.
Here she is
[HANNAH]: we had our own Southern right whale encounter in Wellington this year with so-called Matariki the Whale spending over a week now in our Harbour, which was really exciting experience for everyone on our team.
And that's probably my favourite thing of the year, actually. [LAUGHS]
Because so often, we're dealing with strandings and stuff, and it's quite sad. But this was actually really sort of happy, exciting thing to be dealing with. And all the public was really excited.
People were breaking the law, stopping on motorways, and going out in thunderstorms just to look at this thing, like get a glimpse of it.
So that was a great experience. And we got to work with the harbourmaster, the police, and the Council on this.
We obviously had to provide advice to the Council about the fireworks, which was a brand-new experience that none of us expected to have to do.
[NIC]: Did they cancel them in the end?
[HANNAH]: They postponed them to the following weekend.
[NIC]: Because they didn't want to upset the whale.
[HANNAH]: We didn't know how the whale would react. And with all the extra vessels on the water, we thought it would be safer to postpone.
[NIC]: Bless. I love that story. That is a real story of Wellington, the wildlife capital, isn't it?
[NIC]: It puts off its fireworks display, because it doesn't want to disturb the whale.
[ERICA]: For something as big as climate change, you need a pretty spectacular person to lead the charge. Jenny Christie has been talking about climate change for 11 years, and has seen the room change a LOT.
Her job is to figure out how to change what we do to manage the impacts that we can already see, and the impacts we are expecting.
Here she is in episode 10, talking about how our native species are already being affected by climate change, and what we can do about it.
[ERICA]: That's right. I'm really interested in what climate change is already doing to native species – what can we currently see happening?
[JENNY]: What we're starting to see-- and a lot of it's anecdotal, we haven't got the scientific research to back it up-- things like the snails in Northwest Nelson in dry conditions, the ground gets really hard, and they start to die and suffer.
And up North, kiwi as well, if … there's a drought up there at the moment* [NB: this was recorded earlier in the year]. The ground's really hard, and the kiwi struggle to get their beaks into that hard ground.
And that's probably the most topical one at the moment.
But it's also things like native fish species in alpine areas. There's an alpine galaxis in the Manuherikia and it lives in a few small streams up here. And they are temperature limited to below 12 degrees I think it is.
And I think last year the summer was so hot that the waterways were up to 13 or 14 degrees. And so it's like, well, how are these species surviving in that catchment?
And so it's all sorts of things like that.
It's tuatara-- they've got temperature sex determination. So if the eggs get too warm, then are we going to have a lot of male tuatara? It will affect them in a large number of ways and in ways that we haven't thought of.
[ERICA]: Sure. Is that that thing where it's about one-degree difference for that male to female egg in tuataras, and that could be a functionally extinct population just like that?
[JENNY]: I'm not sure of the exact degree difference, but what you're saying is conceptually right.
[ERICA]: It’s the mission of this podcast to give you a behind the scenes look at as much of DOC’s work as possible. Stu Cockburn is a Technical Advisor who focuses on conservation technology.
Which is to say: he invents stuff to save species.
Stu’s made grasshopper detectors, kākāpō trackers and who knows what else -- the tech team’s workshop is a cave of wonders.
Here he is in episode 4 talking about some of his more ingenious creations.
[STU]: … It's kind of hard to pick one thing out.
[NIC] Pick a few.
[Stu] Pick a few? I think from an engineering point of view, one of the things I'm most proud of is the bat recorder we developed seven or eight years ago. It's kind of interesting that it was only in the 1960s
(PS: Stu would like to add post recording that apparently he’s found out there might have been in the 1920s) some time that humans discovered that bats used ultrasound for navigation, which isn't very long ago.
And since then, we've been developing techniques for capturing those sounds as a method of detecting bats.
And in all that time, there's only a handful of methods that have ever been developed, bat engineering sensor for detecting bats. And we created a new one. So we developed a new technology.
And I will always remember the day we went up to Pureora, an amazing place, and we put out these new recorders which theoretically we thought would work. Put them out in the field.
And then we went and gathered them the next morning, put the recordings into the computer.
And there was exactly what we'd expected and intended as theory by not just the engineering theory, but also what we'd read about the biology of bats and what we should be seeing. That was a pretty good moment.
[NIC]: Are you able to describe how they work?
[STU]: Yeah. So the trouble with recording bats, obviously, is that they use ultrasound and humans can't hear ultrasound, of course.
So what you need to do is develop a technique so that we can electronically convert the ultrasound into something humans can interpret. And there's several methods of doing that.
Some of them involve shifting the sounds down electronically so that we can hear them or just recording them and interpreting them on a computer. And ours is a form of that.
As the bats pass by, we record them. We convert it into a thing called a spectogram, which is an image representation of sound. And then we save that as an image. The trick with it is because of the high recording rates, you end up with huge files.
And we've compressed those images in a way that makes them much smaller and easier to handle. So it's kind of a new technique, a new way of doing it. And it works.
[NIC] So as a conservationist engineer, what does that mean for the bats? Because bats are tricky, A, most people don't know they exist, B, when you know they might be around, they're really hard to pin down, and, C, because they move around so much, really tricky to try and look after. So what does your technology mean for those bats?
[STU] It solves a lot of those problems that you just talked about. So what it's done is it's meant we've been able to produce a cheap, easy to use tool. We've made 3,000 of them. And so they used all over the country. And people use them to identify the locations of bats where they are. At least two new populations of bats have been discovered using our recorders.
So really what it means is it puts a detection and monitoring tool into the hands of our conservationists, our field staff, in an easy to use and cheap format. We can build them for our own staff for about a quarter of the price as we can buy something commercially. So it gives us this incredible tool that we can just go out and use, find where they are.
[NIC] What was it like for you guys the first time you trialed them waiting to see those results pop up?
[STU] It's always a little bit fraught when you develop something new. Yeah. I think I made the point at some stage that there's a billion ways of making things that don't work and very few of making ways of things that do work.
So you've always got an expectation of having problems. So on that first morning where it just worked perfectly the first time we put it out to record bats was, yeah, yeah. It's a bit of a buzz.
[NIC] Nailed it
[ERICA]: Did you know that the tallest moss in the world lives right here in New Zealand? Kelly Frogley is a DOC botanist and the only non-vascular plant specialist we have. She can wow you with a fact about lichen having slow-motion turf wars, or that time that she found a lichen on a human skull.
Here she is in episode 9 talking about green-blindness and what that means.
[ERICA]: I love the term green blindness. Can you explain that phrase?
[KELLY]: Yes. So this is a term that I heard at a recent conservation network conference. And I thought it just applied to non-vascular plants perfectly. Green blindness is that sensation when you're walking through a forest, and everything looks the same. You don't really take it in. It's sort of like a green veil is covering everything.
And I'm guilty of doing this in the past. When I was growing up, I would go for walks in the bush and everything would just be a tree. I'd focus on the track.
I'd focus on my breathing. And I wouldn't really notice anything that was around me. And once I started to learn more and to look-- I have a completely new experience when I'm walking through the bush now knowing what I'm surrounded in, what these plants are.
[ERICA]: So you've taken your green blindness off?
[KELLY]: Yes, I've lifted the veil.
[ERICA]: Lifted the veil. I like that one. So how do you get people to lift the veil themselves, to start noticing things around them?
[KELLY]: Cool. Good question. One of my favourite ways of doing that is to find a really mossy rock or log and ask people to look at it and tell me how many different species they see on it. And this includes mosses, liverworts, lichens, hornworts-- whatever's on the rock/log.
And people just sort of look at it. They don't really know. And then they get all up in it. They start to look at different colours, textures, and shapes. And then they realize that actually there's so much living in this one tiny little area. And it's really fun watching people discover that.
[ERICA]: And seeing that there aren't just a couple of species.
[KELLY]: Mm-hmm. Everyone is always surprised.
[ERICA]: That there are more?
[KELLY]: That there are more, yeah. There are lots.
[ERICA]: Similar to the cryptic species she works with, Emma Williams is a rare sight in the office but if you DO spot her she’ll be running around in reed camouflage trousers, carrying transmitters because her team have just found a bird they’ve been tracking.
Emma is our mobile terrestrial threatened species lead and an expert on all things wetlands and the species that rely on them.
With her trusted conservation dog Kimi by her side, Emma has recently discovered something about bittern that changes the whole way we manage them.
Here she is in episode 5 talking about this ground-breaking discovery.
[EMMA]: Since I've been working on bittern, which is quite a while now, we've had two big, I guess, ground-breaking discoveries. One was in 2016. We discovered that there were a lot rarer than we originally thought.
They used to be nationally vulnerable, and now we know they're nationally critical, which is the same threat classification as the kākāpō. And the only way it can go if it gets worse is extinction. So there's a lot that needs to be done with them.
[EMMA]: And so we started managing them then. But we thought at that time that they were quite localized in their movements. That they would stay within a region, and just use a small network of wetlands.
But very recently, thanks to GPS technology, we've actually worked out that they go very long distances.
[EMMA]:So this happened last October time. We put a GPS on our first Canterbury bittern. And it disappeared off-- all of a sudden it turned up in Blenheim, and that was new information for us. So that's 330 kilome ters, and that's showing that, actually, these are national birds.
[EMMA]: We haven't had one go between the North and the South end yet, but this is early days. But basically, the whole of the North Island is the same population of birds.
[NIC]: What kind of population is there do you think roughly?
[EMMA]: So the official estimate that was from the 80s, and was that we had 1,000 birds, 1,000 bittern. But that was not doing any national census, so they will have been double counting some birds.
So that was, basically, a bunch of experts get together from different regions going, oh, well we've got about 20 in our region. We've got about-- and then the other region saying, OK, we've got about 30. And then adding it all up.
[EMMA]: And so now that we know that they move across regions--
[NIC]: They could have been counting the same guy twice.
[EMMA]: Yeah. And they're doing this across the breeding season, so within a relatively short space of time. Yeah.
[NIC]: So I suppose what you've just told us just demonstrates that value of science advice, doesn't it? Because that whole learning new things, throws the management process we had for bittern before out the window essentially, doesn't it?
And it just says, ‘whoops, instead of managing the small area which we thought was going to be good for bittern, you now have to manage the whole lot’. How does that work?
[EMMA]: Yeah, so it's completely thrown everything out because DOC's whole system of managing wildlife is by a site by site basis. We have these things called EMUs, which are Ecological Management Units, and we have SMUs as well, which is—
[EMMA]: Species management units, yes. That's right. And unfortunately, that means that we're managing on a site by site basis. So basically, says Whangamarino wetland is an EMU for bittern. But Kopuatai wetland, which is actually quite close to Whangamarino wetland, isn't for bittern.
But we know now that bittern need both of those sites, and also need the sites in the Bay of Plenty, and also need the sites of the Northland. It's the same bittern.
So if you're only managing a tiny proportion of an animal's habitat, it's like, in humans terms, having good health and safety in one part of your-- just being safe at home, but the rest of the time when you go to work you're doing crazy things and not being safe. It's not going to work.
I've worked out of one site that in one year the bittern were spending 70% of their time outside of the managed site, and the rest of the time they're on farmland, and they're in drains.
And there's no predator control in those places. There's no protection. People don't even know they're there. I had one farmer in the Hawke's Bay when I told them that a bittern was in a little patch of raupō at the bottom of their land, they were really, really excited.
And they were like, oh, well thank god we found that out because we were going to remove that patch of raupō.
And that's the only little patch that that bird has throughout the whole winter. So it was hanging on that one patch if they'd removed it, it wouldn't have had anywhere else to go. So it's really significant to us, and makes a big difference.
[ERICA]: Birds get a lot of attention in the conservation space. That’s not a bad thing, birds are great, but we could all spend a little more time talking about invertebrates -- the unsung heroes of the ecosystem.
Eric’s job is Science Advisor Ecology, which he describes as ‘science advice for saving things’.
He has expertise as a freshwater biologist and an entomologist; and here he is in episode 6 talking about Antipodean albatross and their poo patches.
[NIC]: I've got a note here about Adams Island and something about an interaction you had with a poo patch. (LAUGHING) Can you tell me what on earth that is, please.
[ERIC]: Sure. I talk about marine life bringing-- the birds bringing resources onto the land. And so Adams Island is one of those places that no rodent has ever been on, and it's hard to say for New Zealand. And there's been no fire there, and there's been no pigs or any other sort of thing on that island.
It's far enough north that it still has tall forest on it. And so it is actually one of the most pristine places on the planet, and a very, very important legacy that we must take into the future as it is now.
But the giant albatross that live the-- Antipodes albatross that live on that island, with a wingspan of two meters. They produce pretty-- quite a sizable poo patch around their nests. [LAUGHS] It's meters wide. It's several meters wide. And so all the tussock is lush there, and the herbs are extraordinary around there. And believe it or not, the insects are, too.
So yes, it's where some beetles and moths do rather well. And so that's a place where you dive down on your hands and knees and just poke a stick around and just see how it contrasts. Then you do that in an adjacent area that isn't a poo patch and see the difference. It's marvellous.
[NIC]: It is. And I always feel that there's the one thing people miss when they're talking about restoring places on the mainland. And they want to bring back this kind of bird or that kind of bird. My view is, we should always try really hard to bring the seabirds back first, and let them poo all over the-- let them create poo patches, and drive that ecosystem function.
[ERIC]: There's modelling that tells us where the birds once lived. And so I'm interested in those sorts of places. And I'd like to fast forward it. I often think we should get a crop-dusting aircraft and just go across them and actually redistribute the guano into those places and drive that ecosystem like it once was driven.
[NIC]: And without waiting for the birds.
[ERIC]: Yeah, without waiting for this birds to arrive back.
[ERICA]: Herb is often referred to around the office as ‘our resident expert’. We don’t need to specify -- he’s an expert in everything.
Herb is a conservation storyteller with a long passion for the outdoors and all the critters that inhabit it.
This episode was by far the biggest for us to edit, because Herb knows so much, and has so many stories. He’s a DOC treasure for sure.
In particular, he has a lot of knowledge about how conservation in Aotearoa has evolved over the years. Off we go to episode 7.
[NIC] I hinted earlier that you've been with the Department of Conservation for a wee while now. You're one of our most gifted science communicators, so over that time what are the real, kind of, neat science and technical advances that you've seen-- from the beginning of your career into DOC, and to now, and perhaps with a view to the future?
[HERB] I was thinking about this earlier on because I had asked myself this in anticipation. And one of the most simple straightforward things is GPS. You know. I went on to an operation one time with a map and a compass, and the guy next to me had a GPS. And so it was like you're replacing the old.
And I was very adept at using a compass and map and I could find my way around the bush-- not blindfolded because I wouldn't be able to see my map. But this guy with a GPS, he was similarly also very adept at using the GPS. And I could see this coming a mile away.
And the next minute you know, the GPS was involved in determining where our species were, how we manage our helicopter flights, everything. Just positioning.
Because we're such a spatial organization GPS has made a huge difference to how we manage species and pests, just everywhere. How you identify where the pests are, how you identify where species are, what their habitats are.
Everything has to do with that, and doing that without a GPS-- I don't know how the hell we did it.
[ERICA]: Lizards don’t get enough love! Of course, if you ask any one of DOC’s staff about what area needs more attention, they’ll say theirs, such is the nature of being a dedicated conservationist.
Lynn Adams makes a brilliant point though: lizards need more limelight.
Our lizards are unlike those anywhere else in the world (for starters, they give birth to live young!), and Lynn’s been all over the country working with our lizard species.
In episode 3 she talks about her long love affair with the Chesterfield Skink.
[LYNN] So, Chesterfield skink lives on this fairly unremarkable piece of beach just north of Hotikika. It's a nationally critical species. And we've done a reasonable amount of research on it over the last three to four years.
[Nic]: Is it the one with the curly wurly tail?
[Lynn]: Curly wurly. [LAUGHS]
[Nic]: I love this one.
[Lynn]: Yes, curly wurly. So that was a name that we gave to a skink. It curls its tail. Its whole body actually curls up into this-- it's like a curly fry.
[Nic]: Yes, or like Mr. Whippy ice cream.
[Lynn]: Or a turd, I've been told.
[Nic]: Seems we're always going to go there in this podcast.
[Lynn]: That aside, so the reason it's got a nice curly wurly tail is because we think it's probably arboreal. So, they use that tail just like monkeys do to grip onto forests. And so, the species is now living on the coast, on the beach.
It was probably coastal forest back in the day. And it's all been cut down. It's lost most of its habitat. It's probably been preyed upon by all the mice and cats and hedgehogs in the world. And it's now down to a population of 200.
We had a major setback last year with Cyclone Fehi which I'm sure lots people are going to remember that one. It was a really damaging cyclone. And what happened at our Chesterfield skink site was that on the we thought was safe beach site, there were these massive waves, massive tides which overwashed them. The whole entire population was overwashed over a couple of tides.
And so, I got that news when I was sitting in Invercargill doing some other work. And I actually thought that we'd lost the whole species. So that was my worst day.
[Lynn]: There were a few tears. [LAUGHS]
[Nic]: I'm not surprised.
[Lynn]: There were a few tears
[ERICA]: Thanks for joining us on this whirlwind tour of past episodes of the DOC Sounds of Science podcast.
Now these are just snippets, each guest has a full length episode, which you should absolutely check out if you haven’t already.
This show is a glimpse behind the curtain at DOC’s work, and an opportunity for nature lovers all around the world to learn from experts and nerd out over our shared passion.
In 2020, many of us have had to slow down and take time to reflect on the most important things in our lives. We’ve had to change how we live, and what we can do.
For Conservation Week 2020, we are encouraging everyone to look at nature through new eyes. Immerse yourself – online or offline.
We’ve got this, Aotearoa.
Stay kind. Kia kaha.
The DOC "Sounds a Science" podcast is available wherever you get your podcasts, so subscribe now, never miss an episode.
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