Stoats And The Contemporary Bird Fauna

For many years, the only conservation strategy considered necessary in New Zealand, as in the northern hemisphere, was the establishment of legal protection for national parks and reserves and for native wildlife. Both of these aims were achieved on a large scale and earlier in New Zealand than in many other countries, including legal protection of several large, critically important, uninhabited, and mainly undamaged offshore islands.

Now it is clear that, vital though they were, these measures were not enough (Clout 2001). The fear is that, despite some famous battles won, mostly on offshore islands, conservation action is not halting the ongoing decline in biodiversity on the two main islands (Craig et al. 2000). The survival of many threatened endemic species on the main islands depends on active management, which for some must include control of stoats.

The technology for trapping stoats was easy to learn from British gamekeepers, but reducing local populations of stoats is a much more difficult task in New Zealand than on the average game estate (Chapter 12), for two main reasons. First, effective predator control is always extremely expensive, and therefore must be well justified. Unfortunately, acquiring the necessary data on predator damage is much more difficult for wild birds that nest in tall trees in mountain country than it is for game birds that nest on the ground in accessible farmland under the benevolent eye of a gamekeeper. Second, single-catch traps (the only type available at present) are not cost-effective over the very large areas of rugged, inaccessible mountain forests in New Zealand where the native fauna most needs protection. Widespread control of stoats using existing technologies is currently viewed as "an intractable problem" (McDonald & Murphy 2000).

For both reasons, recent research in New Zealand has concentrated on first, documenting the damage done by stoats; second, developing new and more efficient ways to prevent it; and third, broadening the whole concept of active management from the preservation of high-profile iconic species to the restoration of patches of semioriginal communities in specially designated "mainland islands" (Saunders 2000).

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