As we are preparing our team with training and get all the necessary paperwork completed to begin serious control and eventual elimination of possums on the Wildside, PFBP is putting Karin Bos to work (but she’ll be the first person to tell you, this isn’t work for her, it’s her lifestyle) ensuring that some of our other pest species are dealt with in the meantime. Introducing the MUSCAT programme.

Photo: Karin Bos doing what she does best - literally anything outside! (Credit: Karin Bos)

The MUSCAT programme, an amalgamation of the words mustelid and feral cat, is designed to help landowners control mustelids and feral cats on their own property with  training and traps supplied by PFBP. It uses a combination of BT200’s (similar to the more well-known DOC200) and Poditraps to get on top of mustelids and feral cats respectively. Both are easy to use kill traps, designed to humanely and quickly euthanise their target pest, and the landowners are taught how to place them and use them to keep non-target animals safe.

Photo: Poditrap with a "feral cat" chimney. (Credit: Jess Helps)

Mustelids, made up of ferrets, stoats, and weasels, are wily and ferocious predators. They can easily kill animals larger than themselves and are a serious threat to almost all native animal biodiversity as they eat birds, eggs, invertebrates, and lizards. Being great climbers and hunters, our taonga doesn’t stand much of a chance under their onslaught.

Feral cats are a significant problem also. They are dangerous to household pets, carriers of toxoplasmosis (which is a harmful parasite with significant negative consequences for pregnant ewes, people – especially pregnant or immune-compromised, and Hector’s dolphins) and are also responsible for the decline of many threatened species across Banks Peninsula and the rest of the country.

So, what does this programme look like in practice? Rural landowners between Akaroa Heads and Okains Bay (the area identified as Phase I of the Pest Free Banks Peninsula rollout) can get in contact with us, by phone or email. We send Karin out to have a conversation with you. She will look to determine what are the best traps for your area, where might be a good place to situate it that takes into account the pest’s natural behaviour while making sure the wrong things don’t interact with the trap, she will look at the ease in which the landowner can get to the trap and finally how to maintain them. Maintaining the traps is vital for the safety of the landowner and to ensure you’re going to continue to make that trap enticing for the predator.

Photo: Karin getting to work on installing a BT200 (Credit: Karin Bos)

We will return with traps that the landowner can borrow, and PFBP supplies the lure, advise, support and the traps. Or if the landowner would like more traps, we can show them how to increase their network and where to purchase the additional traps. We will not provide traps until we are satisfied the landowner is happy with the trap placement and we’re happy that they know how to service them. The landowners commitment is to service the traps approximately once a month and to record their catches. That’s it! Simple, right?

Not all of the traps are on private land. Some are on public land, as trapping loops, being serviced by volunteers. (Takamatua, Le Bons Bay, Curry-Purple Peak). Volunteers have also put them out around the harbour and near Akaroa. Others are on big farms in Ōtanerito, Pohatu and Okains Bay.

Photo: Got to remember to GPS where they go, otherwise you lose them! (Credit: Karin Bos)

We are looking to roll-out the programme to more landowners in the coming years as we start to intensify our own pest free programme on the Wildside and around the Akaroa township. We see this programme complementing our efforts and sits well with other programmes like the recently complete Akaroa Area School trapping pulse and our soon to begin possum elimination programme. Pest Free Banks Peninsula is not just one programme, but a suite of responses to help save our biodiversity and improve the Peninsula’s economic outlook.

If you think you fit the bill for MUSCAT, contact Karin This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 021-2530068 for a quick chat, or if you would like more information on this programme or the PFBP project itself, please contact us on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. We also recommend the Akaroa Trap Library (also run by the fantastic Karin) if you have other trapping needs or questions about installing other predator control.

This programme really embodies everything that the whole PFBP stands for. This is a social project where it is run by the people, for the people. It will take the whole community coming together to reach our lofty pest free goals, and it is becoming apparent that the community is ready for it. We have over 230 traps installed so far and we are keen to see more go out fight the good fight.

Photo: And sometimes the view is worth the effort! (Credit: Karin Bos)

You’d be stretched to find one moaner that doesn’t get excited about being surrounded with nature. There is something wholly electric about our native bird dawn chorus and it’s positively joyful being surrounded by the beauty of the landscape.

Take the titipounamu, a.k.a. flying ping-pong balls a.k.a. New Zealand rifleman for example. When you’ve had an encounter with these lively little borbs, which usually entails great viewing opportunities as they flit around, you come away feeling connected to their lives, their environment, solely based on their presence. Those endorphins, at THAT moment, are free of charge and you are left wanting more.

Photo: Titipounamu living its best life (Lloyd Mander)

To increase the likelihood of these birds being around for future generations and seeing these green ping-pong balls literally bouncing all over the forest, relies on our ability to create a pest free environment. With a thriving ecosystem comes several other tangible benefits to the community. Economic opportunities rise, firstly with employment prospects for locals in the pest free effort, but future gains to tourism by luring the tourist dollar towards incredible forested scenery and genuine encounters with wildlife. Agriculture also benefits, by removing the pest species that can devastate arable lands, farming is more productive in the right places, allowing less productive land to join the thousands of hectares in regenerating naturally. Again, these regenerating areas receive a boost in the absence of pests.

Communities benefit from economic development, but also in wellbeing, knowing that their stewardship of the land is benefiting their future whanau.

How do we achieve a pest free utopia? The question you should ponder is – if it takes multiple approaches to reach a pest free goal, are you willing to learn and understand which tools are needed. Because the truth is, it almost always takes more than one tool to eliminate pests.

Te Pātaka o Rākaihautū/Bank Peninsula is a key location to embark on one of New Zealand’s most ambitious projects looking to do just that. Crucial to preserving and growing our native species, and developing economic benefits for the whole community, is trying to rid us of the pests that are laying waste to our precious indigenous ecosystems.

Photo: Saddle Hill looking down towards Akaroa (Karin Bos)

Banks Peninsula Conservation Trust (BPCT) is partnering with local rūnanga, landowners, central and local government, and conservation bodies to tackle this very issue under the banner of Pest Free Banks Peninsula (PFBP).

If we go back to our original question, what tools would it take for us to remove the pests that are holding back taonga from thriving? Are we prepared to do the mahi and learn about each tool use to better inform our approach?

Pest control, whether this is elimination or suppression, is a controversial subject, yet we must confront our knowledge gaps if we are to turn the tide in the favour of our native species and our communities. Being a social project, it is important that we are open about what it takes to achieve our collective vision, and work with all sectors of our community. It is our mission to help everyone make informed decisions on the best way forward to our shared goals.

Trapping is just one method or tool. There are rules set in place to ensure that animal welfare is a top priority, and they are euthanised quickly to prevent suffering. This is a good option where you have both the people power and budget to constantly service traps, and the terrain allows reasonable access. However, the Peninsula is diverse, with an intricate latticework of various landscape types, including very remote and inaccessible country. You won’t get all target animals in your traps though; some are wilier than that.

Photo: BT200 in wooden trap box (Vanessa Mander)

To really push forward for our native species and give back control to our communities, we need to consider other means of pest control outside of trapping.

Time for a conversation around toxins. Toxin control is not just one method, but a range of methods that can be employed in different ways, with different toxins to achieve a particular outcome. Some pests and predators will never interact with traps, either due to an inherent wariness of the trap or the trap produces a fear reaction. However, these animals will continue breeding and decimating our taonga, unless we find a way to control their numbers.

Toxin represents multiple tools in a toolbox because each tool is used in a different way. How we use toxins has become much more refined. They are presented in such a way that they are highly targeted to the pest in question, while being unreachable, uninviting or unpalatable to the things we want to protect. Some toxins are highly toxic to mammals, but less so to bird life – and this is down to each species processing toxins in different ways. Toxins can be flown to areas that are inaccessible and is often laid in bait stations, but might fool the trap-shy types, especially if we can get them used to non-toxic bait to start with. Many toxins break down extremely quickly and will only be toxic for a very short period of time, minimising non-target animal or human interaction.

Toxin is a single tool, but best used alongside other tools when we are trying to get pests down to very low numbers (including potential elimination) or trying to prevent an explosion of predators in an environment. Most toxin use is strictly controlled and monitored, most requiring the approval of the Ministry of Health, and often can only be used by an approved licence holder. However, some predators are also wary of new foods in their patch and will not necessarily interact with the baits either.

When you get to very low numbers of pests, and you’ve already used both the trapping and toxin tools, you’re left with the most difficult, often trap shy individuals. What’s the next tool? Our strategy is to train and use conservation dogs. These dogs will be able to sniff out each individual, which will allow specialist personnel to dispatch them humanely.

Photo: Stoat getting into the ZIP moto-lure (Zero Invasive Predators)

Each method has pros and cons, but it is about using the right combination of tools, in the right order and in the spaces that will allow us to build a thriving native bird chorus into the future. If we are to truly look at eliminating pests, and championing the lives of our native species, we need to be open to a conversation on each tool. If we want ample opportunities for our flying ping-pong balls to thrive, to provide economic opportunities to our people and for us to do this collectively, then we need to understand how we can achieve that.

Photo: Miromiro coming to say hello - less predators means more of these borbs (Lloyd Mander)

PFBP is constantly in contact and sharing information and techniques with other predator free operations and we look to use new and innovative research and tools to further increase the number of tools in our toolbox.

While we are looking to use a variety of tools, such as trapping, toxin, and conservation dogs to make gains in our pest free journey, the vision of a Predator Free Aotearoa by 2050 will require new technologies to come onboard before we can achieve our collective vision. In the meantime, we must stem the tide before there is nothing left to save.

For more information on any of our tools, please feel free to contact us on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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!