Day 17: Predator Free New Zealand?

There has been a bit in the news lately about a new government campaign to make NZ predator free by 2050. It’s a bit of an odd concept for me since predators are just part of life in the U.S. In NZ though, predators such as rats, possums, and stoats are not native and were introduced to the country – either as stowaways on ships (rats) that came here or introduced on purpose (possums for fur, stoats to control rabbit populations). But the native bird population of NZ didn’t evolve with defenses for these predators. John Key, the Prime Minister says “rats, possums and stoats kill 25 million of our native birds every year, and prey on other native species such as lizards…”

New Zealand is home to many bird species that are found in no other country. A crazy 59% of the 196 native species in NZ are endemic! There are five species of Kiwi, the flightless bird that has become a national symbol of NZ – two of these species are vulnerable, one is endangered and one is critically endangered.

I knew some of this already but looked up the stats out of curiosity because of the predator free campaign. How can you rid an entire country of predators, why would you do it, and what does that really mean?

  • Why? The reason behind the campaign is to protect the native species of NZ. I assume this is both for protection of the species as well as for tourism as tourism is a big driver for NZ. There is already a lot of focus here on protection including habitats with special fencing to keep predators out and islands that have eradicated predators and have strict rules in place to keep them away.
  • What does it mean? Oddly, the campaign means just what it says and the government wants to kill all of the predators. Except of course for pets which is an interesting contradiction since my understanding is that domesticated dogs are a big threat for the kiwi population.
  • How? This is the hardest part to get my head around. The expectation seems to be that they will get the private sector involved to help with traps and eradication.

We’ll see what comes of it and if they can get the funding to make it happen but this is one of those things where I would say ‘only in New Zealand’…

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