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Stoat shots paint grim tale

Stoat caught on camera at Mt Holdsworth. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Stoats caught on camera at Mount Holdsworth in Tararua Forest have highlighted the ongoing need for effective predator control.

Predator-monitoring cameras set up in December were collected in February. All 10 cameras captured images of stoats.

The cameras were set up in an area recommended by DOC and Operational Solutions for Primary Industries for their joint Project Kaka predator-control operation.

The cameras had been part of a trial for an improved camera-based predator monitoring method.

DOC Wairarapa supervisor Briggs Pilkington said this was a worrying indication of the number of predators in the area, and demonstrated the importance of ongoing control.

“The Project Kaka zone is home to a range of taonga species, such as kaka, popokatea/whitehead and kakariki, where predator control is carried out by DOC and the Donnelly Flat ground control volunteers.

“Stoats and possums are the main predators of kaka. Nesting females are particularly vulnerable while they are incubating eggs within tree cavities,” he said.

Pilkington said it could be difficult to confirm stoats were in an area unless you caught them on camera, even when their presence was strongly suspected, so it was “a bit scary” the cameras captured so many images.

Given the locations of the cameras, it was likely there were multiple animals within the Project Kaka area, he said.

“You don’t need many stoats to have a problem.”

Stoats were incredibly efficient and relentless predators, able to climb and often use a strategy of killing everything in sight and storing the surplus.

They had large home ranges, often from 40 to 100 hectares. At this time of year, they would be moving around as young stoats sought out their own territory.

Stoat population numbers tended to increase when there was a reasonable rodent population, so there was likely to be a large population of rats – another predator for taonga species.

Pilkington said although the trapping the volunteer group did was essential for staying on top of predator numbers, and was critical to the successes of Project Kaka, ground-control methods had limits.

He said ground-based control was effective in accessible areas, but could not be easily scaled up to respond to immediate predator threats, particularly in large areas with steep terrain such as the Tararua ranges.

“That’s why we seek to do operations with biodegradable 1080, which can be applied by air over large areas of rugged terrain to suppress predators like rats and possums, and stoats.

“Ongoing predator-control is paramount. The actions we take now will suppress populations for a while, but if you don’t keep on top of predators, they will keep coming back. Taonga species and their habitat are increasingly under threat.”

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