NZ visitors welcome but dogs not so much

The surge of New Zealand visitors to the West Coast over summer and autumn has been a boon to communities missing the dollars usually injected by overseas tourists.

But there is just one problem for a region rich in vulnerable wildlife: many of the locals come with their dogs.

Domestic tourists in motorhomes are flocking to remote corners of the Coast with their pets and expect to be able to take them on walks and adventures, the West Coast Conservation Board has heard.

Board member Barry Hughes, who runs a kayaking business at Okarito, said there had been an increase in New Zealanders taking dogs into sensitive areas.

"Dogs are fine around Okarito village. We have a green area for them to play and enjoy some exercise, but we've had reports of dogs being taken on forest walking tracks and they are a risk to our rowi [Okarito kiwi]."

The rarest brown kiwi is found only in Okarito forest and conservation efforts have grown the population from just 165 birds in the 1990s, to about 600.

Conservation board acting chairwoman Inger Perkins, who manages the West Coast Penguin Trust, said there had been reports of dogs killing rare tawaki or Fiordland crested penguins over summer in South Westland.

Council signs telling people where dogs were prohibited or had to be on a lead were being ignored, and the penguin trust was working with the Department of Conservation to see what more could be done in the way of education or enforcement, Ms Perkins said.

Mr Hughes said a balance was needed to meet the needs of communities and their visitors and dogs without endangering biodiversity.

- By Lois Williams, Greymouth Star/Local Democracy Reporter

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