17 Dec 2018

Goodnature traps business taps into global pest control demand

From Nine To Noon, 9:32 am on 17 December 2018

Wellington pest trap company Goodnature says the business is growing so fast it is hiring more staff and will need to move to bigger premises and expects to be 80 percent exports in the next two to three years. 

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Photo: supplied

Goodnature traps are self-resetting non-toxic devices that target possums, stoats, and rats.

Founded 13 years ago by Robbie van Dam and Craig Bond, the traps are now used widely by the Department of Conservation as well as private organisations and community conservation projects up and down the country.

He says they're continually improving.

"There’s a constant movement to innovate and we’re product designers so we’re constantly looking for the best thing." 

A relatively new aspect for the traps is bluetooth connectivity for statistical monitoring of kill rates. 

"All that data of course is the most critical thing - so timestamping, temperature stamping and geolocating all of this information allows us obviously big data and allows us the capacity to immediately understand what’s happening on the landscape."

He says it allows trap-setters to refine their techniques as well. 

"'What are the baits that we need or the small modifications that we can make that have significant increases in effectiveness'."

They do seem effective, with Goodnature partnering with the Department of Conservation (DOC) for research. Van Dam claims that DOC's deployment of their traps managed "to grow a kiwi population greater than all of the other control methods that they had in place".

He says their data shows about 3500 to 4000 rats killed by their traps each year, not to mention other invasive species. 

The traps are also being used by individuals in residential settings.

"We’re seeing more the general consumer installing them in the backyard and protecting those corridors that are actually really powerful for biodiversity too."

He's hopeful that trend will continue. 

"Community groups are doing more than a million hectares themselves. The issue that we have with the million hectares that they’re doing is that using traditional methods you’re looking in those boxes [every] 12 to 24 hours… doing the same thing over and over. 

The new Goodnature A18 trap which has been designed for both mongoose and mink

The Goodnature A18 trap has been designed for both mongoose and mink. Photo: Supplied/Goodnature

"With our product - being able to leave it for six months - we really want people rather than halting at the scale that they currently are is to scale significantly out: six and ten times."

He says that as pest populations dwindle, they become much easier to control. 

"We see that the majority of the kills happen within the first three weeks.

"Zero to five percent is the goal - once the animals are down at that level it’s very very easy to maintain them ... once you've taken out the rest of the population the home ranges increase and they’re more mobile. Because the trap’s in situ they’re more likely to encounter more and more of those devices so it actually becomes much much easier." 

However, the effectiveness seems to come with another cost, with some reports that the traps can also kill endangered birds like kea and weka.  

Van Dam isn't too fazed. 

"Whenever you install something that’s lethal in the environment there’s always going to be issues with non-targets but the non-target profile of this product is actually extremely low compared to most methods that we’re using."

The company is also expanding into overseas markets fighting their own invasive pests. The traps are now being sold to 16 countries, and with half their business already from exports they're hoping to grow that to 80 percent within two to three years.

"I’ve been travelling up to Hawaii and Europe and Scandinavia for the last decade trying to understand what are the real issues for most critically endangered species and what the invasives are like." 

He says the small Indian mongoose is one animal they're targeting with their traps. 

"Everywhere that there was sugar cane the mongoose was released, so we’ve got up in the Caribbean, Mauritius, all of those, the islands have ended up with the mongoose, a horrendous, horrendous killer of things."

Non-target kills are also a problem overseas.

"Globally there are obviously all those other mammals - for instance the UK were trying to control grey squirrels rather than red squirrels, but you’re talking about a  population that there are now so few red squirrels that in fact the control methods are very unlikely to ever even encounter or be placed in an area where red squirrels still exist. 

"Australia, where they’re protective of all possums, you do have to be really careful about the situation that the product finds itself."

However, the benefit may be worth the risks. 

"We have more than 12 species that we have now certified for A-class humaneness … globally we’re also really committed to [countering] biodiversity decline as well. 

"Of the IUCN’s top-100 invasive species we’ve already taken out five of the top 10 with products that control them humanely, instantaneously and non-toxically." 

And of course there's always the potential to improve. 

"We’re a technology company - we’re not committed to one thing or another, we’re committed to the best outcomes - and we’ve seen huge advances in obviously drones but also biodegradable materials. 

"We have a huge amount of knowledge in how to aerially deploy huge amounts of cereal pellet and you translate that very simply to a mechanism that instantly kills the animal that interrogates the device. 

"We want to empower communities, and our role is providing the tools that allow people to get great results. 

"Traps haven’t changed for hundreds of years - thousands of years, even - and this is the only product on the market like it."