On 25 July New Zealand's Primary Industries ministry and Department of Conservation approved a nationwide strategy that will see all exotic pest animals eradicated from the country by 2050.
Possums, rats, ferrets and stoats will be initial targets for this ambitious plan, which by its overarching scale is set to be a world-first for any pest eradication scheme.
A new company, Predator Free New Zealand Ltd, will partner and fund initiatives by the Maori community, other conservation groups and the private sector in a coordinated effort to sweep out every introduced animal, leaving nothing to continue to breed on.
By its small size and isolation New Zealand evolved over millions of years with a relatively low number of wildlife species and bats the only mammals. The birds, evolved in balance without terrestrial predators, now struggle against an estimated 25 million annual deaths by exotic pests (Maggie Barry, NZ Conservation Minister) while the unique co-evolved native plants are equally vulnerable to extinction by possums and rats.
Australian possums, with needle-sharp claws and teeth, feed on virtually anything from flowers to meat, with no tasty plant or nestling a match for their strength and fearless habits. Ferrets and stoats, similar in size and survival equipment, also carry bovine tuberculosis.
Now the people and government want to take back their environment, restore its natural balance, and have their homeland back in the shape it was before ships and irresponsible immigrants spread pets and pests into an environment unsuited to cope with them.
However, as with all governments nothing happens quickly. The first part of this initiative, plus a good swag of its funding, will be absorbed by research, under a Biological Heritage National Science Challenge, to develop technology necessary to achieve this ambitious goal.
Meanwhile, as with Australia's appalling occupation by cats and cane toads, it is assumed that in New Zealand a few dedicated, unfunded volunteers will continue to strive to save what is left of a rapidly disintegrating and disappearing natural heritage - for as long as they are able to do it.
- Patricia Edwards
This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on September 5, 2016