There are plenty of sea cliffs around the Peninsula, and these are hard to reach and difficult to manage in any pest control programme. The truth is, we don’t really know much about how possums use sea cliffs in their day-to-day life. And we really need to understand this if we are to eliminate possums, especially in these gnarly areas.

Brittany Graham is a PhD student with Lincoln University, supervised by the wildlife management guru Dr James Ross, and is looking to help us answer some of these tougher questions.

Photo: Brittany Graham with one of her collared possums (Credit - Jess Helps)

Brittany is more of a recent convert to conservation, and animal behaviour in particular, but in her own words “I have always loved animals and finding out that I can base a career around them was amazing!”. And her passion is going to go a long way into helping conservation efforts across the motu.

Her research is based on alternative lures, including audio, visual and scent lures, meaning can we use some innovative lure techniques to draw in animals from further away, which could also mean we use less traps and bait stations for the same effect. Reducing the equipment requirement for a baiting or trapping network would make work more efficient and cost effective while still achieving better pest control outcomes. We look forward to seeing what she finds in her research.

The other part of her research brings us back to our sea cliff problem. Are possums living exclusively on these sea cliffs, which would mean we have to find some way to eliminate them on these near vertical slopes, or are they just using them as dens and slipping into farmland to feed at night?

Brittany’s research question is a little broader. She is looking at the home ranges (the area which that possum will roam) that are living in or near the sea cliffs of Banks Peninsula. Once she has worked out what their home ranges look like, she can try different lure types (using alternative lures) to draw possums out of the cliffs and, what a good trapping/baiting regime might look like based on how those possums use those sea cliffs and surrounding areas.

So how do we find out what a possum’s home range looks like? There is nothing like a montage to show the process. Firstly, Brittany, along with PFBP team members deployed a network of live traps around the edge of the sea cliffs to catch live possums. Secondly, they are anaesthetised, and a GPS collar is attached to them, before letting them go free again once they have woken up. All done as humanely as possible to reduce stress on the animal. This collar will record where they go for around 3 weeks and send the data to Brittany.

Photo: Possums are removed from the live capture traps and put in a box to be anaethetised. This means it can be handled without stress to the animal. (Credit: Jess Helps)

Photo: A possum having the collar attached.

You can see that with this data, we will be able to determine if they are living comfortably in these sea cliff homes, or, as we suspect, they are just sheltering there during the day and doing forest-farmland recces during the night. And, if Brittany’s research shows these alternative lures are bringing possums in from afar to a smaller network of traps/bait stations, then we have a better chance of eliminating them from the Peninsula.

Imagine, this research could result in meaningful gains for our native and endemic biodiversity in not just our perfect corner of the world, but the rest of Aotearoa/New Zealand as well. Brittany adds, “Ideally, we would love to reduce, and hopefully in the long run, eliminate pest mammals on Banks Peninsula to help restore the native wildlife as close as it was before the pests were introduced.”

No pest control operation in Aotearoa has an unlimited budget. With research like Brittany’s we might just make that conservation dollar go further by being smarter in our elimination strategy. That means bigger bang for the buck, for the future of our native species.

Nau mai, haere mai Brittany. Welcome to the team!