Army of volunteers join war on pests in Taranaki

Thousands of traps for rats, stoats, ferrets and weasels are being laid in the Taranaki district. - Photo: Andy Reisinger

Taranaki residents are snapping up thousands of traps as the province embraces an ambitious initiative to eradicate predators from the mountain's ring plain.

Backed with $11 million of government cash, the Towards a Predator Free Taranaki 2050 project has been enlisting an army of citizen-volunteers in its war on pests.

Since May, the Taranaki Regional Council, which is driving the project, has been running pest control roadshows selling subsidised traps and teaching people how to build and set them.

Locals have bought about 2500 traps in New Plymouth alone and 1000 more are being laid out in the city's parks.

A further 2000 traps targeting stoats, ferrets and weasels are being rolled out in partnership with farmers and lifestylers in the rural landscape between the sea and Egmont National Park.

Project manager Toby Shanley said townies were mostly being asked to target rodents.

"So in the urban setting we're really targeting rats because rats are a huge problem for our native biodiversity. Eating chicks, eating eggs, eating lizards. All those things and a lot of it is unseen.

"So we're trying to make people aware that if they do control rats in their backyard and everyone is doing it our native biodiversity is going to really benefit from that."

Mr Shanley said the rural trapping would support work being done by the Taranaki Maunga pest control project being carried out in the national park.

So far the citizen trappers, who are asked to lodge their kills online, have caught almost 800 rats and mice, 70 possums, 24 hedgehogs and six stoats.

Eight-year-old Cory Barrett, who was at a council roadshow at the Oakura community hall south west of New Plymouth, knew what pests to target.

"Stoats, rats, mice and things like that because they're killing our native birds."

But when RNZ caught up with Cory and mum Milou at home a few weeks later, the family's trap had so far drawn a blank - much to Cory's dismay.

"I thought we'd catch at least some mice or a rat because we used to get rats all the time around here."

Oakura is however proving a rich hunting ground with more than 100 rat kills registered online with the project.

That would come as no surprise to Hannah Dixon from Oakura Primary, who we also met at the community hall.

Oakura was one of 27 schools signed up with the project, and Hannah and her schoolmates had been putting out tracking tunnels.

"We've found some rats in the tracking tunnels, some mice and some more rats."

Hannah was optimistic about getting rid of predators.

"I reckon we can, yeah. If we do all we could I reckon we can do it."

Not for the faint hearted

Over at the school, predator control supremo nine-year-old Samantha Bentall explained they had no trouble trapping rats.

"We've caught about 30."

But rat trapping was not for the faint hearted.

"We've found rats that have had their heads cut off and we've also found a rat that had its eyes eaten out by ants."

While that might sound a bit off putting, a weekly prize draw for predator kills has kept the young trappers motivated.

And it was just that kind of enthusiasm that had Mr Shanley believing a real dent could be made in pest numbers.

"Just getting a town like Oakura to all be trapping rats, that's going to have a massive benefit for the native biodiversity here so I'm not too worried about the big goal. I want to see things improve in our backyard."

The regional council said it was monitoring wildlife populations to measure signs of success of the Towards Predator-Free Taranaki project.

It said although kaka sightings had increased that was likely just a coincidence. It was not expecting instant results and believed bird numbers would increase in the years to come.