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The do’s and don’ts of interacting with NZ’s native wildlife

By   /  December 16, 2018  /  Comments Off on The do’s and don’ts of interacting with NZ’s native wildlife

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Source: Department of Conservation

If you’re here from overseas visiting our unique nature; or are from elsewhere in the country exploring your wider backyard, here are some hot tips to treat wildlife the Kiwi way.

1 – Don’t get too close

New Zealand’s native species are unique, precious and fascinating. It’s tempting to try and get an up-close encounter but keeping your distance will avoid causing stress or harm to any wildlife. Give wildlife their space.

Our native species includes marine mammals like seals, dolphins and whales; birds like kiwi, whio and pukeko; and invertebrates like crayfish, wētā and giant snails. It’s a vast group.

Each species is vulnerable to disturbance in different ways. For instance, if you’re too close to a seal or whale, both of you are in danger as they can attack if they feel threatened or need to protect their young.

On the other hand, kiwi are very sensitive, and if you crowd them, or try to pick them up, the stress could cause them injury or even death.

Elephant seal on the Chatham Islands. ?: Leon Berard, Creative Commons

2 – Don’t share food

New Zealanders love our kai (food), and our wildlife do too.

The rule of thumb is, whatever food you carry in, you need to either eat or carry out.

We like tramping snacks like nuts, fruit, muesli bars, crackers, bread, chocolate and veggies. But none of these should be shared with native species. Even something like nuts, which birds may eagerly eye up, shouldn’t be given to them if it’s something you brought into their space.

Even feeding birds native plants is a no-no, because it teaches them to take food from you and lowers their necessary natural suspicion, which is a crucial survival skill.

Some species have a gift for wheedling food from visitors, but you need to resist their charms. On that note:

3 – Don’t trust Kea

Kea will rob you blind.

These alpine parrots (the only kind in the world!) are notoriously cheeky and can’t help getting into mischief.

Kea are ruled by their curiosity and are famous for taking and eating things that don’t belong to them. This is a big problem when they steal food or equipment that could poison, choke or strangle them.

Kea will nick (steal) your stuff at any opportunity, and it could seriously harm or kill them. That’s not their fault, they’re birds. As the person, it’s up to you to keep kea safe.

  • Never feed kea
  • Never leave temptations like loose clothing and boots, packs, food or brightly coloured objects around kea, especially your car keys!

Kea with cigarette butt ?: Marisa Galitz, Creative Commons

4 – Do selfie safely

Your Instagram grid says a lot about you. You don’t want it to say, ‘I’m a jerk.’

If your social media boasts close ups with New Zealand’s native species, your followers will wonder about the risk to the species to get that shot.

Our social media team are frequently sent reports from members of the public, concerned about wildlife not being given enough space by people seeking prime pics.

There’s been quite a bit written about the effects of selfie culture on wildlife. We don’t encourage this kind of dangerous behaviour in NZ. Sure, take pictures of wildlife and talk about your experiences online; but do it from an appropriate distance.

You can learn about appropriate distances for different species on our website, but as a general rule of thumb, stay at least 20m away.

If you’re in the water in a vessel (which includes kayaks and paddleboards!) near a marine mammal, then there are very specific distances you must follow and speeds you must stay under.

You don’t need to get close to get a great shot – it’s amazing what the right lense and proper focus can do.

Kea around the Haast Range. ?: Kerry Weston, Crown Copyright

5 – Do keep a close eye on your pets & your kids

Pets, children and wildlife don’t mix. Unsupervised kids and uncontrolled dogs can cause serious harm or disturbance to wildlife. In some cases, our native species may even lash out and inflict injuries on your unsuspecting child or pooch; which is a nightmare situation best avoided.

Laura Boren, dog owner and Marine Science Advisor, wrote an excellent series of blogs about managing dogs in coastal environments. You can find Laura’s blogs here.

6 – Do follow the rules

Interacting with wildlife in NZ isn’t something that’s governed by chance. You must have permission from DOC to:

  • catch or handle wildlife
  • hold live wildlife in captivity, or hold any part of dead wildlife
  • export live/dead wildlife
  • release species into a wild location
  • disturb, harm or kill wildlife or their eggs

There are instances where our conservation partners may need to do things like collect eggs or release species, but in these cases they will have applied for and received the required permits.

Yellow eyed penguin returning from the sea.?: Hannah Hendriks, Crown Copyright

In some curious cases, wildlife has hidden in incognito mode, like these giant snails which were mistaken for shells by travellers. These snails were returned, but at regrettable extra cost and effort. Unfortunately, even if these were just shells, it would still be against the law to take them. You can’t take snail shells or snails from their rightful home.

Kidnapped powelliphanta. ?: DOC, Crown Copyright

7 – Do report sick, injured or dead wildlife

Without fail. You can find information about what to do in these scenarios on our website.

The main thing to remember is the number for our emergency line: 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).

8 – Do your research

If your travels will take you towards a seal colony, you need to read up on how to behave around seals. Or perhaps you’re off for a spot of bird spotting – in which case make sure you know how your behaviour can help or harm NZ’s native birds.

This useful information is on our website. A good place to start is the how to behave around wildlife page. We’ve also got some great guidance on what to pack and keeping yourself safe in general.

If in doubt, contact us.

Have a great time out of doors, admiring our native wildlife the Kiwi way.


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