Source: Department of Conservation
This blog post was written by DOC staff member and Predator Free advocate Cameron Hayes.
Close your eyes and imagine a flourishing Aotearoa, alive with the sound of birdsong.
Ruru/morepork hoot away at dusk and kiwi screech throughout the night. By day, raucous tūī and kākā compete for abundant kōwhai flowers while pīwakawaka/fantails dart around from branch to branch with their captivatingly inquisitive nature. Below you, intricately patterned geckos and streamlined skinks bask in the sunshine, waiting for a naïve beetle or fly to land nearby. Kākāriki chatter away to each other and in the distance you here the staccato laughter of a tīeke/saddleback.
The scene you’re visualising is probably remote – a native oasis tucked away in some valley of some national park, rarely visited by people and only experienced by some knobbly-kneed DOC Ranger.
Now imagine that this is your backyard.
With an absence of introduced predators like rats, stoats, and possums, our native wildlife gets a chance to thrive, even in backyards and residential areas. It may not happen overnight, but with enough tenacity and perseverance from everyday Kiwis, it will happen.
So if you want to swap your rats for ruru and your possum for pīwakawaka, here are three things you can do from home:
Connect with your local Predator Free group
There are loads of volunteer groups across the motu supporting backyard trapping. To see what’s happening in your area, try checking out Predator Free New Zealand’s interactive map. If there is a group in your area, they should have a website listed on the map (often a Facebook page) or just give them a Google.
When you get in touch, just let them know that you are keen to learn more about trapping in your backyard. They may be able to supply you with a trap and give you the low down on how to use it, or they might point you in the right direction on how to get started. They might also ask for a koha, usually to go towards the cost of buying more traps and supplies.
Note: with the current lockdown, Predator Free groups might not be able to supply traps at the moment, but it’s still worth connecting with them, as they will be able to help set you up when things are back to normal.
If you have extra time on your hands at the moment you could also offer to support the group remotely. Predator Free groups are generally run by volunteers and there are always tasks such as data entry or replying to emails that could be really helpful. Consider what other skills you could offer, such as social media, graphic design, or writing funding applications.
Tracking and chew cards
Once you’ve connected with your local community group you may want to start looking at your own backyard and figuring out what introduced predators are calling it home. You might be surprised at what is roaming around when you’re not looking!
The easiest way to get a sense of what predators are around is using chew cards. These are pretty easy to make from home if you have the right bits and pieces – check out the instructions here. Chew cards basically use a non-toxic lure (usually peanut butter) to tempt an animal into biting the card, leaving their chew marks behind. Different animals leave behind different marks, so you tell which species are around.
If you want to be really flash, you could also build your own tracking tunnel. Tracking tunnels also attract animals with a non-toxic lure, but instead of leaving bite marks, they walk over an ink pad and leave footprints. You can read more about how to build tracking tunnels here.
Trapping is about the most valuable contribution you can make from home to support a predator free New Zealand. Depending on your property type and target animal there are a range of traps available, but the most common for backyards is the trusty Victor rat trap.
Victor traps are affordable, effective, and humane. Because they’re so popular, there are a load of videos and resources available online on how to use them – check out this video by Zealandia.
Your trap should come with a trap box or tunnel, which basically keeps the trap away from birds, pets, and children. Once you’ve set the trap with your bait of choice (we recommend peanut butter!) slide it into the box and close the door.
If you’ve used chew cards or tracking tunnels you should have a pretty good idea of where predators are and where to place the trap. Look out for obvious food sources, such as compost or fruit trees.
If you’re targeting rats, it’s important to note that they don’t like big open spaces and much prefer to travel alongside walls or fences. They are also neophobic, which is a fancy way of saying they don’t like new things, so it may take a while for them to pluck up the courage to go near the trap.
If you are targeting mustelids, like weasels or stoats, you can still use a Victor trap but you may want to think about baiting it with meat. If you’re targeting possums, you’ll need another type of trap. The self-resetting A-12 by Goodnature is pretty cool, or you can check out some other options from Predator Free New Zealand here.
If you aren’t catching anything, try to switch up the trap bait and location every now and then, but make sure to leave it out for a good week or so before moving.
Contributing to a predator free New Zealand from home means working together with your community to roll out the welcome mat for our native wildlife. It means learning about what lives in your area and making decisions about what you want to thrive.
Predator Free 2050 is a huge ambitious goal, but with a few simple actions at a local level, you can bring nature back to your backyard.