Forest & Bird says ridding Rakiura Stewart Island of introduced predators will be a global game-changer and welcomes the $2.8m research agreement between Manaaki Whenua and Predator Free Rakiura, announced today.
At 180,000ha, Rakiura Stewart Island would be the largest island-based predator eradication attempt ever made, anywhere.
Forest & Bird Spokesperson Dean Baigent-Mercer says “Freeing Rakiura Island from introduced predators is a massively ambitious and important vision that will pave the way for environmental protection in the rest of New Zealand, and the world.
“Predator eradication on Rakiura Stewart Island will be a global showcase for what’s possible and how to get there. Making this happen will take a huge collaborative effort, and Forest & Bird acknowledge the expertise and dedication involved in this kaupapa.
“As well as being a game changer for native species like the Stewart Island brown kiwi, hoiho, New Zealand dotterel and many more native and endemic species, Predator Free Rakiura would be a major draw card for nature tourism and the local economy, and for the expression of mātauranga Māori.”
“Including cats and hedgehogs within the research project is really important and will help create new pathways for controlling these invasive hunters.”
Rakiura was the home of the last population of kākāpō, which were transferred to safe offshore islands because cats were hunting down and killing the last of their species.
“The success of this project could see both kākāpō and South Island tīeke saddleback, which narrowly escaped extinction too, being returned to Rakiura,” Mr Baigent-Mercer says.
“Currently there are forested areas of Rakiura in active collapse, with tōtara being eaten to death by possums. Turning this situation around will be a milestone and help repair the native forest as a carbon sink”.
Future residents might see millions of seabirds flying into forests at sunset, loud bird song and chatter of tui, bellbirds, kakariki by day and the cries of kākāpō, kākā and seabirds by night.
“Sixty years ago Forest & Bird members led the very first humble rat eradication on Maria Island in the Hauraki Gulf, which covers only one hectare. It’s incredible that today New Zealand is researching the removal of all introduced predators off an island 180,000 times bigger,” says Mr Baigent-Mercer.
“Like those who had the foresight to bring about Rakuira National Park and the legacy they left, so too will the people involved in Predator Free Rakuira leave a great legacy for current and future generations. Congratulations to everyone involved.”