21 Jan 2019

Stoat hunt: Great Barrier Island operation being scaled back

7:24 pm on 21 January 2019

After more than two weeks, the hunt is winding down for elusive stoats on Great Barrier Island after no signs of their presence.

A stoat perched on a log

Stoats would devastate the island's bird life, a council spokesman says. Photo: 123RF

The island had been considered stoat-free until a resident reported seeing a pair of what was believed to be stoats crossing the road at Medlands Beach earlier this month.

Another two sightings are said to have taken place in the weeks since.

The sighting was taken seriously and a multi-agency response team involving Auckland Council's biosecurity team and the Department of Conservation swung into action.

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Gecko is one of Auckland Council's dogs involved in the hunt for stoats on Great Barrier Island. Photo: Supplied / Auckland Council

Two biosecurity dogs were dispatched to the island early in the search but have not been able to confirm the stoats' presence.

In the hope of sighting the unwanted invaders, the search has covered around 300 hectares of farmland, wetland and native bush.

Thirty-four baited traps have been set, three cameras installed, and 11 tracking tunnels laid in the sighting area to capture the suspected intruders.

To date around $9000 excluding staff time has been spent on the hunt; if a presence were to be found the cost to eradicate would be much higher, the council said.

Auckland Council's regional biosecurity team manager Jonathan Miles told 5 o'clock Report that search efforts will continue, but not as intensively as before.

"We haven't stopped, I want to make that quite clear, but we're into that second phase. The dogs - we don't need a dog out there right now, but again if there's any sightings we will look at what we will do and how we will respond to that."

He said Great Barrier Island has never had the same pests as the mainland - that is, possums, stoats, Norway rats and hedgehogs. As a result, the island's unique local flora and fauna had flourished.

"Stoats are a serious threat and any incursion, while always a possibility, would be devastating to the island's native bird life. Vigilance is key to keeping our islands pest free."

It is still unknown just how the stoats came to be on the island.

"While this is good news and a relief, it's a stark reminder to locals and visitors to the island of the importance of checking gear and goods on their boats and in their cars for stowaways before heading into the gulf," Mr Miles said.

The search for the stoats has been supported by local residents.

Kākāriki or red-crowned parakeet.

Kākāriki or red-crowned parakeet. Photo: Supplied

Trustee Emma Waterhouse said that the island is home to significant populations of endangered bird species, including kākā, brown teal, kākāriki, black petrel and New Zealand dotterel.

Judy Gilbert manages the Windy Hill Trust Sanctuary, which aims to improve and sustain biodiversity on the island. She said that having stoats there would be catastrophic.

"We've got a lot of ground-nesting birds like rail, we have a whole lot of sea birds that are ground nesting as well, so it would be devastating for us. The only good thing to come out of it would be reducing our numbers of rats a bit."

Contact Auckland Council if you spot a stoat

Residents and visitors are urged to contact Auckland Council's biosecurity team on 09 301 0101 if they believe they have seen a stoat.

Tracking will continue for the next three weeks with traps checked weekly instead of daily and if no stoats are detected a review of the operation will be made to determine whether to continue.

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