Over the winter period the Pest Free Banks Peninsula team were out in the hills at Josef Langer reserve. Their task was to install over 60 bait stations filled with Pest Off! (brodifacoum), in a 75 x 75 m grid. The purpose of this operation was to knockdown the possum population in a significant biodiversity area. It also gave our team some vital bush-bashing and bait-laying experience in preparation for our main elimination operation.

These bait stations are set up in a grid to ensure even coverage of the site and increase the chances of possums encountering them

Once we started the op, we discovered very quickly that the area seemed to be filled with a lot of very hungry possums. All the bait was gone in every bait station! We refilled them every single week and this continued for the duration of the operation. It was hard to gauge whether these bait stations were encountering significant numbers of possums, or there were just a few extremely dominant and greedy individuals who guarded the sites, eating several times more than the lethal dose of toxin before succumbing. The bait station refilling continued for several months to ensure knockdown in the zone would be significant enough to provide good biodiversity gains.

At the same time as our toxin operation, Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research aimed to study rat behavior, during and post bait station operations to try and improve their understanding of why some individual rats survive population control operations. They helped us refill our stations and put cameras out to monitor the bait-take. Their data will be extremely valuable in considering future rat control efforts in projects all over the country.

Doing this smaller-scale operation in Josef Langer first served multiple purposes. It was an excellent training ground for the staff, who perfected the process of safely and efficiently installing/servicing bait stations. This operation also gave us vital logistical information about how regularly we would need to refill these stations in our main operation. We concluded if we used feratox sparingly, near these bait station sites we could more quickly remove bait-guarding individuals and take the bossy dominant possums out of the picture early, allowing more animals to access bait in a shorter time frame. This way we can maximize the knockdown potential of brodifacoum. More can be found about our tool use HERE.

Possums are neophilic, meaning they like new things, so our bait stations with flour blaze or lure are quite interesting for them (possum seen here with ZIP moto-lure).

To be successful in an elimination project, it is important to have as many tools in the toolbox as possible. Each tool will play an important part going forward to achieve our overarching goal, a possum-free Extended Wildside.

Another positive we took from this is that the exercise will provide some much-needed breathing room for the resident biodiversity since it will be a while before we start our full-scale toxin and trapping operations in Le Bons Bay. It is our hope that the locals will see a few less possums for a while until we can sweep through the area on a larger scale, and gunning for elimination, at a later date.

A look into the tools we are planning to use and why each step is important.

Photo: It's all about what we are trying to save - Check out this cute pīwakawaka!

We talk about “Tools in the Toolbox” when we consider what we need to do to get Te Pātaka o Rākaihautū/Banks Peninsula pest free. The term is important because it will take more than one tool (like trapping) for us to reach this goal. That’s just the facts. However, using a range of tools, like trapping, coupled with toxin control, followed by conservation dogs or other tools, we increase our chances of really making inroads into saving our biodiversity, and increasing economic gains for Banks Peninsula.

Joseph Langer Reserve is one place where we have been using a non-trapping tool. During July and August 2022, our team have been using PestOff! bait (brodifacoum), a toxin-based control tool for possum control. Each bait station is set up to ensure they are attractive to possums to increase the chances of them using them, while ensuring their placement is away from non-target species like pets and stock. This was a great opportunity for our team to hone and refresh their skills before we start the main Wildside pest free push.

Photo: Bait stations are just another way we are targeting possums

Another tool we are looking to use is Feratox. This is an encapsulated pellets of potassium cyanide, designed for the massive bite strength of the possum. We plan to use this in our operation to knock down the dominant possums first, who exclude other possums from accessing the bait by claiming stations their own. By removing these often-larger (bossy female) possums, it allows almost all other possums better opportunity of accessing and consuming the Pest Off! bait.

So why don’t we just use the Feratox for all possums if it is that effective at knocking them down? It’s all about risk and reward. While Feratox is very quick at dispatching possums and in one dose, it also is one of the toxins with some very specific requirements for use and no immediate antidote. This then requires very careful placement of bait stations and significant effort from the team to ensure the safety of surrounding areas are safe from things we are actively not targeting, like stock and pets, accessing it. Whereas Pest Off! can require the possum to take a couple of feeds to be effectively euthanised but does have a ready antidote (vitamin K) which will be stocked by the local veterinarians. We will certainly be contacting vets in and around out site so they know what we're doing. The risks of using Pest Off! are lessened and will allow greater coverage in areas where Feratox is too challenging to be used.

So why use Feratox (or any cyanide-based product) at all? It’s extremely effective at knocking back possums very quickly and allowing other possums to access bait stations that would have otherwise been chased off. If we miss this step, then there is a chance that we may dispatch a fair number of possums, but not enough to get to our pest-free goal and there will likely be too many for the conservation dogs to be effective – in which case we may fail and have to start all over again. To be clear, all toxin-based operations will have the clear understanding and permission of all landowners of land we will work on. This part is paramount to our success as a team and as a community.

In an elimination programme, we do not have the luxury of “just making a dent” in the population. We must strive to allow all pests in our target area equal opportunity to access bait, or be caught in traps, or be found by conservation dogs. This is why we use some tools just enough to allow another tool to be more effective at slashing those populations down to zero.

Photo: A BT200 that we use to control mustelids. We need multiple approaches to ensure we have the best chance of success.

Does that mean that we are only using bait stations in these operational areas? Absolutely not. We use bait stations where trapping is less likely to knock possum numbers down in sufficient numbers or where the terrain makes trapping, too labour intensive (also too expensive). This will be followed up later on with conservation dogs to sniff out the stragglers. Trapping is still an essential element of the plan for possums and for our other species we are looking to target (like mustelids and feral cats).

Baits and toxins are ideal to use in some of our gnarly areas as long as they are used:

  • In accordance with best practice, AND
  • In consultation and permission of landowners, AND
  • Always with the health and safety of the community in mind.

Our team are professional and well trained. We are happy to provide landowners with more information on our use of Pest Off! and Feratox, just get in touch at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we can send that off to you. Or, if you prefer a more in-depth discussion, please don’t hesitate to contact our team.

So how is the Joseph Langer Reserve operation going? Well, the team are reporting that there are clearly lots of hungry possums because the bait stations are constantly empty, which is in line with landowners reporting high possum numbers. We hope to see with subsequent refilling that less bait is taken so we know we are confident we are knocking them off.

We absolutely appreciate all the support we have received so far from our amazing community, and we are looking forward to working with you all to ensure we can be once again deafened by the bird chorus.

Our take home message for you, the reader:

The more tools we have in our toolbox, the more certain we can be at having the right instrument for the right job. Each tool has a specific job and when used in the right order, can ensure we get the job done.

We are going to talk about one of Banks Peninsula’s many special avian residents today. They are noisy, stinky, awkward little creatures on land, but in the water, they are feisty, fish seeking torpedoes. This is of course our kororā, little blue and white-flippered penguins.

Photo: Life's a beach!

Banks Peninsula is home to two different species of kororā, the little blue penguin (with its variant white-flippered penguin) and we also have a small population of hoiho/yellow-eyed penguins.

Little blue penguins are found in small colonies all around our dramatic Banks Peninsula coastline. Little blue penguins feed primarily on anchovies and pilchards. They will also consume squid, plankton, krill as well as small octopus. A small study in 1996 showed that the primary food for Pohatu/Flea Bay’s little penguins was arrow squid at that time, different from other populations around the country. In time, local agencies and organisations hope to do a more in-depth study of the current foraging habits of our feather-flippered friends.

Penguins were once plentiful on Banks Peninsula. Locals say they once waddled the streets of Akaroa at night, nesting under houses and causing an unseemly ruckus at all hours. Their numbers, however, swiftly declined, and presently little penguins tend to live in remote and scattered colonies around Banks Peninsula. This drop in numbers can likely be attributed to a number of factors, including habitat loss, diminishing food sources, climate change, predation by an increasing population of mustelids and feral cats. Also, uncontrolled domestic dogs can have had an impact.

In recent years, climate change and changing sea temperatures seems to be having a more significant effect on their food foraging habits. We have all seen the reports of starving or dead penguins washing up on beaches lately. It is a disturbing trend, one that has been confirmed locally. The Pohatu penguin population has dropped from 1360 breeding pairs in 2016, to 955 in 2020. With the increased network of predator control, and large numbers of artificial nesting boxes being put in place during that time, the decline of this population seems to be pointing more towards food source rather than other on-land pressures. The short film Korora which follows the 2020 Horomaka kororā, (Banks Peninsula little penguin survey) touches on the history of penguins on Banks Peninsula, their current state, and what the future may hold for this perky wee bird.

Photo: We could be anywhere...

When seeing little blue penguins in the wild it is important to remember some rules on how to behave around wildlife. Give them plenty of space; 20 meters is a good guide. Don't go close to them, they are either resting after feeding, or on their way to see their chicks. Do not shine torches or lights on them, Banks Peninsula’s little penguins are shy. If interrupted while coming on shore at night they will leave again, leaving their chicks unfed in their burrows. How we act around our little penguins, and their nest sites can directly affect their breeding success. A perfect rule of thumb is to leave them alone to do their penguin business. If you find a sick bird talk to DOC on their 0800 DOC HOT line (0800 362468), or if you know local bird rescue groups they can be notified too. You need a special wildlife permit to interact with these birds or be under the supervision of a permit holder, so do not pick up a sick bird unless permission has been given.

Before working for Pest Free Banks Peninsula (PFBP), our ranger Jess spent quite a bit of time with these little characters at Pohatu’s penguin colony. And the team knows, she absolutely loves talking about these tenacious little birds.

Story time from Jess

Photo: Miss Biter in the basket.

We got all types through the penguin rehabilitation at Pohatu Penguins. Most of our penguins in the colony hatch successfully, raise healthy chicks and moult with no problems, but sometimes during Pohatu’s regular nest monitoring we find birds in trouble. These ones sometimes end up being taken into care until they reach fledging. That generally happens around 8 weeks old as this is when they have lost their fluffy chick appearance and grown sleek adult feathers. The ideal weight for a chick's release is over 1kg. So, to get them ready, they get fed lots of fish thanks to generous donors such as The Antarctic Centre.

While in care, some birds embrace the experience with gusto, eating all the fish they are given by their handlers and begging for more. Others are fussy turning their beak up at the offered morsels unless it is given to them in a method or manner that is acceptable. An example is a bird that only wanted to be fed from the left-hand side. There are also plenty of those birds that will try to tear your fingers off if you so much as even look at them, behaving just as wild animals should.

Penguins have a delightful stab, bite, twist technique to defend themselves, that can cause blood blisters, grazes, or sometimes even slice and draw blood. I stress again, never ever try to touch a penguin in the wild, as this will either cause harm to you, or cause harm and distress to the penguin which is an offence under the Wildlife Act 1999.

Photo: Miss Biter with a hunger for ranger fingers...

Little Miss Biter was one of these later types of rehab penguins. Jess was tasked with feeding the little menace after being given the obligatory warning, “handle with even more care than usual”. The little penguin had a masochistic thirst for her feeder's pain but when she finished trying to maim the hands that feed, Little Miss Biter also loved her fish.

Pohatu Penguins took her in when she was approximately 4 weeks old as she was no longer getting fed by her parents and was rapidly losing weight. After monitoring the situation, it was decided they had to step in. As you can imagine, feeding time for little Miss Biter was a delicate procedure, and so was the daily swim. The Pohatu team knew that this particular penguin would do very well in the wild, as she was a real fighter. Unashamedly we fondly talked about the day she would suddenly walk downstream during her swim and disappear into the big blue. We loved her, but we would love to see her return to the wild where she would so obviously thrive.

Miss Biter managed to grab and twist several of her handlers' sensitive areas in transit to her daily swim one day, and then had the nerve to preen herself between her handlers' feet after the dip as if nothing had happened, expecting to be taken back to the rehab area. Jess looked down at the bird knowing this momentary good-natured behavior was indeed a trap, but she gently shushed the bird back into its carry container. As Jess transported it back to the rehab, she looked down to see the penguin just staring back at her steadily, she found it quite unnerving. A few days later, Little Miss Biter was thankfully ready to go and left hastily as the Pohatu staff knew she would.

Jess often wonders how little Miss Biter has done since going back in the wild, hopefully in a year or two the bird will have little hell-raisers of her own, and they do well, and tender-fingers crossed they do not end up in Pohatu’s Penguin rehabilitation.

Little blue penguins are known as a sentinel species for the health of our marine ecosystem. If the penguins are not doing well and declining in numbers, then we need to figure out what we can do to improve conditions. This goes further than just providing a safe habitat to nest, that is free from predators, but also looking out into the Peninsula's turquoise blue waters and considering what we can do to preserve or restore conditions out there. Our job here at PFBP may be land based, but we know a lot of our locals care deeply about the sea too. What matters most for you in our local slice of ocean? Is it the fish you catch for kai, the dolphins, seeing orca cruise the harbour searching for sting rays? There are so many wonders out there. So, share with us what you are passionate about in the Peninsula’s deep blue.

Photo: Miss Biter has her "pecking" order.