Predator control project to be biggest in world history

A new research agreement on Stewart Island will be the biggest predator control project in global history, a conservation group director says.

Representatives from Manaaki Whenua — Landcare Research and Predator Free Rakiura have signed a research partnership agreement worth a joint $2.8 million over four years to work towards ridding Stewart Island of all major predators.

Predator Free Rakiura project director Campbell Leckie said possums, feral cats, hedgehogs and three species of rats would be targeted in the initiative.

A predator eradication project of such combined size and complexity had never been attempted before, he said.

"Basically, this research agreement provides us the opportunity to answer a lot of questions ... that you just don’t know because it hasn’t been done before."

Because of the scale of the funding, the range of research topics the project would be able to cover was wide, Mr Leckie said.

It would include pest behaviour, ecology, cultural and economic factors.

"One of the target species is hedgehogs. We have no idea about the distribution of or the numbers of hedgehogs on the island. That is one good example of things we need to understand.

"Another good example is that this project targets six species ... So can we get rid of them all it once? Or you have to go for one or two species first?

"If we get rid of all the rats, what are the implications of that? Do the cats then switch and eat other species? There are so many questions."

The work would be a major step towards the goal of making New Zealand predator-free by 2050.

"It will be the biggest project ever completed in global history in terms of predator control.

"This, coupled with the scale of the island, coupled with the multiple number of species, means that we will have a really good snapshot of some of the challenges we will face as we scale up to get rid of predators on the mainland."

Te Puka Rakiura Trust co-chairman Paul Norris agreed.

The funding would be used to scope the project and do a feasibility study on how the target species could be eradicated.

Then, later on, the team would partner with other groups and stakeholders to put the plan into action.

"We set ourselves a challenging timeline of 2026 to get to there but there is a lot of learning we need to do to be confident around that date."



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