New Zealand to eradicate possums, rats, feral cats and hedgehogs over next four years

Conservationists say eradication programme will help preserve the island’s vulnerable native species

Related: Kentucky wildlife officials use electrofishing to fight invasive species

New Zealand is launching a mission to eradicate introduced predators like possums, rats, feral cats and hedgehogs in the next four years from an inhabited island in what is believed to be the largest such attempt in the world.

The island of Rakiura, commonly known as Stewart Island, is embarking on the mission to make itself predator free with a $2.8m partnership between its conservation group Predator Free Rakiura and Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Research, a crown research institute.

The densely forested hilly island is rich in flora and fauna but has been threatened by increasing numbers of invasive species like cats, rats and brushtail possums on the island.

Conservationists said the eradication programme will help in preserving the island’s vulnerable native species.

“Presently Rakiura is in a state of pōuri or sadness,” said Dean Whaanga, the co-chair of Te Puka Rakiura Trust, Predator Free Rakiura’s trust group, in a statement.

“On the surface a visitor might see the beautiful treasure that it is, however its true mana [power] and mauri [essence] will be recognised when the indigenous species return in numbers as seen by our ancestors,” he said.

“In Māori legend, Rakiura is also known as Te Punga o Te Waka a Māui – the anchor stone of Māui’s canoe (the South Island) from which he raised the great fish (the North Island). Now it will act as a motif for anchoring the country to a nationwide predator-free goal.”

Also read: The alien fish invading India’s rivers and lakes

The project will be carried out following intense research to better understand how pests proliferate and how best to manage them.

“What we learn here will help to pave the way for the whole country to become predator-free,” Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Research said in a statement.

While New Zealand has introduced similar programmes in the past, including its national programme to get rid of the predators before 2050, a project of this combined size and complexity has never been attempted before.

Invasive predator species — animals like rats and possums that are not native to the islands of New Zealand — kill millions of native birds each year and have threatened many species, including the national icon Kiwi, according to experts.

New Zealand has the most introduced mammals in the world and they cost the country billions of dollars per year, according to government estimates.

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