Rabbit explosion threatens birds at National Wildlife Center
More rabbits means more ferrets, and that’s not good news for our vulnerable forest taonga.
Biodiversity experts at the Pūkaha National Wildlife Center in Mount Bruce know all too well the grief of finding ferret-ravaged kiwi carcasses, and they want to get ahead of the problem.
The Department of Conservation has provided $ 700,000 over three years to create three new jobs in and around the sanctuary to control the number of pests in order to protect Pūkaha’s wildlife.
The farmland surrounding the reserve near Eketāhuna stretched across northern Wairarapa and as far as Central Hawke’s Bay, which has recently seen an unprecedented increase in rabbit numbers.
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Center biodiversity chief Christine Reed said they also had a year of record numbers of ferrets and cats both outside and inside the 942 ha forest reserve, trained by an increasing number of rabbits which are their main prey.
“Without a coordinated effort, rabbit control should be an ongoing problem for the region. “
Reed said it was important that the community now act together to work on an issue that affects everyone, to prevent further biodiversity, economic and environmental losses.
“It is extremely difficult for landowners to control rabbits property by property when rabbits are a landscape-scale problem,” Reed said. “Now that the funding has been secured to launch a collaborative monitoring effort, we have a real opportunity to make a difference. “
Tens of thousands of rabbits were thought to live on the land around the reserve, causing loss of productivity and farm income, while accelerating erosion and land degradation.
A meeting with neighbors was held in Pūkaha on Friday to coordinate action in the 2,700 ha buffer zone around the reserve to control a burgeoning rabbit population.
Neighboring farmers struggled to reduce the number of pest rodents, as environmental conditions were ideal for them to thrive.
Farmer Ross Gibson praised the initiative as it would bring coordination and more resources to broader rabbit control in the region.
“It’s a common problem. They [Pūkaha] could see that they couldn’t dominate the predators when the number of rabbits is so high because it supports a higher population of predators, ”he said. “It was certainly in their best interest and certainly in our best interest, so that’s where we started.”
Gibson has been tackling the pest problem on his farm with poison bait drops and heavy firing regimes for the past two years.
The rabbit count was so bad in 2019 that pastures collapsed in some areas of the farm, and he couldn’t keep cattle there.
Last year, he estimated he killed around 12,000 rabbits on a single 120 ha block bordering the Pūkaha reserve.
Gibson agreed that farmers are supposed to help with pest control around Pukaha, but said dedicated staff would be a big step forward.
The $ 700,000 grant for new staff comes from the government’s $ 1.2 billion Mahi mō te Taiao Jobs For Nature program and was to be used to create jobs in conservation as part of the pandemic recovery.