Wide-ranging brief for conservation

Today is World Ranger Day, a chance to celebrate the work of those working to protect and save our conservation estate. Rebecca Fox takes a trip with marine ranger Jim Fyfe and his team on a mission to find an injured sea lion pup. 

There she is,'' marine ranger Jim Fyfe quietly says.

The group behind him halt and peer over his shoulder at the sea lion pup and her mum lazing way below, at the bottom of the dunes at Sandfly Bay.

Not wanting to spook either one of the sea lions, having found them only that day after weeks of searching, including an eight-hour search of Otago Peninsula beaches, Mr Fyfe, St Kilda veterinarian Tony Malthus and fellow Doc ranger Graham Loh work out their game plan.

They want to capture the pup - known as 9028 - to check how her injuries are healing.

Nearly a month ago, she was spotted with a suspected broken jaw, so Mr Fyfe set out to find her to see how hurt badly she was.

The 7-month-old, one of only three sea lions born on Otago's coast this year, was captured and taken to Mr Malthus' clinic for assessment. It was decided to suture her lip and wire her broken jaw.

She was then taken back to Papanui Inlet and released to find her mother Huru (feather).

However, she and her mother then disappeared, leaving Mr Fyfe and his team in the dark as to whether she had survived.

Regular checks of Victory Beach, where she had first been seen, failed to find her so, in a last-ditch effort, Mr Fyfe spent the day searching the peninsula's beaches, finding her at his last stop, Sandfly Bay.

Relieved to find her still alive, he called in Mr Malthus and Mr Loh, and the trio got set up to capture her, putting together the net and pulling on protective gloves and jackets high up on the dunes.

Then Mr Malthus headed quickly down the dunes to block off her path to the sea, while the two rangers came at her from the other side.

Expecting a struggle, the rangers were pleasantly surprised to find her sound asleep.

The capture went without a hitch.

Mr Malthus swung into action, sedating her, before she was untangled from the net and her jaw examined. The wire was snipped off and it appeared that the jaw had healed although not perfectly in place.

It was a satisfying experience for all involved, Mr Fyfe said. But all in a day's work for the busy marine ranger, who has been working along the Otago coast for 15 years.

New Zealand sea lions were endangered and their populations on Otago's coast and the Auckland Islands were struggling, he said.

''It emphasises the need to do all we can for individual animals,'' he said.

Doc took decisions to help the mammals seriously and, with 9028, Doc's vets had been consulted on the best course of action.

Her injuries could have meant she could not eat or suckle, which could have brought a slow death from starvation. If that had been the case, she would have been euthanised, he said.

Fortunately, that did not happen. Seeing her yesterday had shown it had been a good decision as the repairs had worked and, judging by her good condition, she was able to feed, he said.

''I'm hopeful she'll survive. Her chances are much improved and she's clearly on the road to recovery.''

While Mr Fyfe had seen flipper injuries and shark bites on sea lions in the past, it was the first broken jaw. He did not know what caused the injury.

The experience would be used to help Doc develop new methods to restrain and capture sea lions to help the mammals, as well as look after the health and safety of the humans helping out, he said.

Rangers often dealt with unusual situations without much warning.

''You have to improvise. A lot of things have to dealt with quickly so you do the best you can but you can't foresee all scenarios.''


Doc Rangers

- World Ranger Day commemorates rangers killed or injured in the line of duty, and celebrates the work rangers do to protect the world's natural and cultural treasures.

- Doc has more than 1100 frontline staff working from the subtropical Kermadecs down to the subantarctic islands.

- They service New Zealand's conservation network which includes 14 national parks, 38 marine reserves, 326 camp sites, 967 huts and 13,429km of tracks.

- Their job involves everything from chick-rearing, weed-spraying, stoat-trapping, marine monitoring, track-cutting, volunteer-wrangling and public speaking to toilet-cleaning.

- Outdoors knowledge and skills are desirable.

- An applicable tertiary qualification in the area of work is desirable.

- Outdoor qualifications: outdoor first aid, chainsaw qualification, ATV operations, day skipper/boat master, firefighting unit standards, health and safety, etc.

- Salaries can vary depending on roles and responsibilities.

- Should have a good level of fitness for field work. Suits people who can work productively as part of a team but can also work unsupervised. Able work to with iwi/hapu, the community, agency partners and others.

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