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How did your passion for conservation start?
I actually started work at Orana Park. I worked there for 10 years and like every new keeper wanted to work with the lions, tigers and monkeys. I soon specialised in birds because it is actually a challenge just to keep them alive let alone get them to breed. While I was there, Lady Diana Isaac came down and met me because she wanted to move into conservation. She asked me for advice on what birds she could have and how to build an aviary. We got to know each other quite well and she made me a very tempting offer to start working in conservation. The trust was already established at that point, it actually started in the 1950s when they first moved onto the land. It has all been quarried. There were quite a few aviaries here when I started. We have just built upon what was there already. I went on as the wildlife manager and have kept that position since.
What does the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust do?
It is private and not open to the public and sits on the Isaac Construction site. The trust fully funds the whole programme that we do such as building the aviaries and all our wages and everything. I have connections at the Department of Conservation and one day we pointed out to them that we were prepared to build aviaries and help with endangered birds. We just slowly started getting all the endangered species and built the aviaries to suit them. I think because we are not open to the public we just do so well with the breeding. I just love what I do, I mean it is not even work for me, it is a passion. When you have the resources to be able to do it, it is amazing. With this being a working quarry we can build really huge aviaries and we have all the road equipment and machinery we need on-site. All of the truck drivers that work here are all really supportive of what we are doing. Whenever I walk past them they always ask me what we are up to so I think they are really keen and proud of what we do here.
Are there any achievements or successes with the trust that stand-out for you?
One of the big ones is we started doing the incubation of blue duck eggs, DOC actually collected them from the wild, we incubated and hand-reared them and were able to release them into the wild. The adults would actually double-clutch, which is when an animal lays two sets of viable eggs, with DOC doing all the predator work we were doubling the population numbers. We increased the number of blue ducks so much, it has worked really well. Another one is our work with the orange-fronted parakeet, they are only found up in the Arthur’s Pass area. We have actually saved them from extinction. We bred them here and released them into the wild. I think the good part about the job is that we can actually go on the releases too so we can go out to the wild and see what happens after we have bred the animals so that is really cool. That is our little reward getting to go along to them.
I would have to say the black stilt because they are really really endangered and we have helped them out a lot with DOC in Twizel. I also like the blue duck babies because they are so cute and we have done so much hand-rearing, we could end up breeding about 30-40 of them a season.
You were recently made an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, what was that like?
I actually thought it was a hoax when I got the email. I thought someone was having me on. Then I read it through again and thought oh my god. I was really tickled about it actually. I think it is because you are being rewarded for something you do, but really it’s just a passion to me and I love doing it so to get an award is really amazing.
How long have you lived in Hororata?
I have been here 22 years. I travel to work near Christchurch Airport every day. I actually moved out to Hororata with my dogs from Christchurch.
What do you like about living there?
I look out my back window and see the mountains. I live in a really old cottage on quite a bit of land, and I love my garden. I don’t like living in the city, it is so much quieter and more peaceful out here. I would never go back into town now. Do you have any hobbies or skills outside of conservation? No. Well, actually I would
have to say dogs. I used to have quite a few Alaskan malamutes, but am dogless at the moment. I am hoping to get another one.
Could you tell me about your family?
I am divorced. I moved out to Hororata with the dogs and left the husband in Christchurch. I do not have any children. I would never give up my job for that, I made that decision when I was at Orana Park. I was only about 23 or 24 but I thought no I don’t want kids I love my job too much.