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!

PFBP is tackling a big job, which means that we need to be at the front-end of research to help us make sure we have every edge and advantage. Working with research students is an essential part of the mahi because it’s shared knowledge that will help all of Aotearoa achieve the goal of being Predator Free. We need to be at the forefront of technology and research if we are to make meaningful changes to save our biodiversity. We would like to acknowledge some of this work by introducing Lincoln University MSc student Mel Barnett. We’ll leave Mel to tell her story.

Photo: Mel adjusting one of the PFBP cameras used for monitoring (Credit: Mel Barnett)

Tell us a little bit about yourself and why you have decided to study in this area?

I'm studying a Master of Science (Conservation and Ecology) through Lincoln University. I've always enjoyed the outdoors (camping, tramping, trail running) and have been fortunate to have been part of some amazing Department of Conservation volunteer opportunities over the last 10 years, including D'Urville Island Habitat Restoration, Port Craig and South Coast Track Maintenance, Milford/Fiordland Historic Maintenance, and Yellow-eyed Penguin/Hoiho Annual Nest Search in the Catlins.

I find fulfilment in meaningful work, seeing tangible results and enjoy getting out of the office. When it was time for a new career direction, I already knew the conservation/pest management/outdoors was something I was highly interested in, and my DOC volunteer experiences had been incredibly rewarding, so the next step was to turn that enjoyment into a career. This led me back to Lincoln, nearly 10 years after completing my undergraduate degree there. After initially intending to complete a Master of Pest Management (Vertebrates), a taught Masters programme, I made the switch to challenge myself with a research based Master's and undertake a thesis.

While it is early days and the write up part of my thesis is a good while away yet, I am thoroughly enjoying the research element of my thesis. It is hard to complain when spending beautiful sunny days at Kaitōrete and getting the opportunity to gain experience alongside the knowledgeable PFBP team.

Photo: The camera is watching what happens around the trap and the lure (Credit: Mel Barnett)

That’s just as well for us then! We’re glad you’ve chosen to work with us. What are you looking to achieve with your research?

As part of a network of 280 PFBP traps which are being set up at Kaitōrete, I will be utilising the first 50 to go live, which are down the Western end of Kaitōrete.

My research will aim to see if the use of external automated lure dispensers (ZIP Motolures) to supplement various ground-based traps (kill traps and live traps) will increase capture rates for hedgehogs, mustelids, possums and feral cats at Kaitōrete, Banks Peninsula.

Basically, we are hoping that a motolure outside on its own will be less threatening for an individual to want to check out, rather than entering a trap/foreign object to check it out. If they like the mayonnaise they get from the external motolure so much, hopefully that will convince them to go inside the trap to get more mayo from the dispenser inside the trap, resulting in increased capture rates and perhaps catching more shy/cautious individuals who would otherwise not interact with a trap.

My research questions include: 

  • Which of the three trap types (Holden live trap, Podi kill trap, live capture cage trap) has the highest capture rates for each species (hedgehogs, mustelids, possums, feral cats)? 
  • How does the addition of the external Motolure impact the capture rates for each species (hedgehogs, mustelids, possums, feral cats)? 
  • Does the addition of the Motolure change the ratio of non-target species being captured?

These will likely be extended once we get data in and see what else we can utilise the data for.

Traps have been placed at approximately 100m spacing at the western end of Kaitōrete and prefeed twice per day for 3-4 weeks using ZIP Motolures. (This has been done from mid Feb to mid-March). PFBP have had their own cameras collecting data during the prefeeding time.

Of the first 50 traps to go live, I have randomly selected 30 for my research (5 control, 5 test; 10 per trap type - Podi kill trap, live capture cage trap, Holden live trap).

The 15 control group traps (5 podi, 5 cage, 5 holden) will be set live and the ZIP motolures will continue to dispense mayonnaise twice per day as it has been doing during the prefeeding time.

For the 15 traps in the test group (5 podi, 5 cage, 5 holden), an additional Motolure will be set up approximately 30cm from the trap entrance and set to mimic the two times per day dispensing frequency.

All 30 selected will have cameras set up to collect footage. Data obtained from camera footage will be collected over a continuous  6-week period. Pending results from the first 30 traps, I intend to expand and replicate my fieldwork, either further east on Kaitōrete or at another site Pest Free Banks Peninsula are currently targeting.

Photo: Adjusting the ZIP Moto-lure next to a Podi-Trap (Credit: Mel Barnett)

And anyone you’d like to thank or shout-out to for their support in your research?

I have been fortunate to have awesome support and expertise from Tim Sjoberg, John Williamson and the team at PFBP. Also from Dr James Ross who just as excited about this project as I am. Additionally, I have received the Lincoln University Research Masters Scholarship, the William Walter Dunsterville Scholarship, and the Forest and Bird Stocker Fund to support this research.

A word from us

We are really excited to see how Mel gets on with her trial and how we can better use our tools to make our trapping more efficient. All research insights take us that one step closer to achieving our pest free goal. Nau mai haere mai, Mel.

 

 

 

 

Jess Helps is not just an invaluable member of the Pest Free Banks Peninsula team, but also a great storyteller. At the end of 2021, Banks Peninsula was inundated with a deluge that affected large parts of the Wildside in particular. While this was a significant weather event for many affected parties, our team also lost a good amount of equipment to landslides and flooding in the area. However, not everything was lost. We'll leave Jess to tell the tale of Camera 66.

This is the intrepid story of Camera 66, a.k.a. Wildside 3-4 SD61. There is a lot of numbers I know, but what follows is an even longer tale:

Caption: This is a picture Camera 66 took of its motolure friend

This camera’s sole functional purpose was to watch a motorised lure for a period of 21 days. A simple task. Camera 66 is a basic, but vital device of the Pest Free Banks Peninsula project and it took the task seriously. It watched, and captured pictures, and most of them were as expected. This particular camera’s assignment however encountered… complications.

The above image was the last photo taken before its peaceful existence was interrupted by a deluge unlike anything the peninsula has seen in a very long time.

 

Caption: It’s pretty inky black here

The night was black, noisy, and sometime during the night the camera tumbled away, losing sight of its mayo excreting lure-friend. Its task was done! Mission Kaput. Surely it will never see anything again.

 

Caption: Foggy lenses make for rubbish photos

But the day dawned and through its foggy lenses the camera clicked. It may be lost, far removed from its assigned station but its quest was not over.

 

Caption: It may be foggy but Camera 66 still manages to get a butt shot of a bird

However, the view the camera had through the lens was not ideal, birds visited, which was nice, but the camera wasn’t able to do what it really needed to do. Always the same tilted view of trees, leaves and sky, and the fog collecting on its lens every morning became a drag too. One day quickly blurred into another. Partway through this ordeal it was almost discovered by a woman with a blue backpack, but she strode past quickly, wading through flood debris, the woman's mind on other more immediate and pressing concerns.

 

Caption: Even a slinky feral cat can’t escape the eagle eye of Camera 66

 

Caption: Camera 66 sees you, Blackbird

It seemed unlikely the steadfast piece of equipment would ever be discovered, a black cat slunk past, and the camera did its duty regardless. Hopes however that this footage would ever be found were all but dashed, nevertheless, it would carry on until its batteries flickered their last.

 

Caption: A joyous reunion!

This was not to be the case however when a human suddenly loomed over Camera 66. It was gently picked up and turned off. Job well done Camera 66; job well done.