New tech protects wildlife

A gecko moves through a crawl tube as part of a high-tech solution to help the species survive....
A gecko moves through a crawl tube as part of a high-tech solution to help the species survive. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
A project aimed at restoring natural habitat in the Queenstown Lakes is betting on some high-tech solutions to achieve its ambitious conservation aims.

The Southern Lakes Sanctuary, which is aimed at eradicating possums, rats and mustelids across a 660,000ha area between Lakes Wakatipu and Hawea, announced this week it is trialling innovative ways to trap possums and track rare skinks.

Cardrona co-ordinator Tom Reeves said the new technology to track rare skinks involved a special crawl tube lined with filter paper which collected eDNA (environmental DNA) — tiny traces of DNA left behind by animals in an environment.

The filter paper was then sent to Wilderlab in Wellington which analysed what animals had passed through the tube.

Current monitoring methods were expensive, required permits, and were not always reliable. The crawl tube offered an accurate and much less labour intensive solution.

The work was important because in order to preserve the rare and cryptic skinks they needed to know more about them.

"Skinks are under extreme pressure in their natural setting from predators such as stoats, cats, rats and even hedgehogs."

Project director Paul Kavanagh was also excited about the trial of a new device for controlling possums.

The new technology called "Spitfire" included weighted scale and sensor for height, which fired a toxin when both were triggered.

The smart sensors could differentiate between possums and native species.

"What I love about this technology is it uses lots of smart tech like smart sensors and even the design is tailored specifically for the possums which means its safe to use around native species."

The tecnology was much more efficient than what was previously available.

"For traditional trapping methods, most traps are single set, so single set trap you generally check every month.

"Any sort of situation like this where we can set and forget, like only go and check once every six months or once every year really helps our resources."

Both technologies would allow the project to do more with less.

"A big thing in conservation is that resources are always tight, especially for a project as ambitious as ours, so we need to make sure that we’re doing the work in the areas where there is the most biodiveristy gained."

Mr Kavanagh said it was an exciting time for conservation because of the new technology and innovation coming out.

"Since the Predator Free 2050 announcement was made in 2017 a lot more tech and innovation groups are moving into conservation so its opening up huge opportunities for us working in conservation.

"The Predator Free 2050 announcement is a real moonshot, it is probably one of the most ambitious conservation projects any country has ever done."

By Mark John