New Zealand’s first mammal predators were dogs and Pacific rats which arrived with Polynesian migrants around 1350. And when Europeans migrated in the late 18th century, the floodgates opened.
Rats, mice, possums, stoats, ferrets, cats and hedgehogs were all let loose in our forests and native species came under intense attack. Birds, plants, insects and fungi were all fair game. These predators competed for food, de-foliated our forests and ate the birds outright.
Here in Rotorua, there used to be several ferret farms in the Mamaku Ranges. But when the market for ferrets collapsed in the 1970s, farmers simply opened the cages and let them run straight into the bush.
An estimated 26 million native birds are killed every single year in New Zealand by these introduced pests. Their destructive power is so immense that only 5 per cent of native birds ever survive into adulthood.
Female birds are often killed while guarding their nests, limiting a species’ ability to breed and accelerating their decline.
And don’t be fooled that birds and insects are safe if they’re up in the trees. Stoats, for example, are great tree climbers and can consume much larger birds and animals than themselves.
Based on the number of pests Rotorua Canopy Tours has caught since 2013, we estimate the Dansey Road Scenic Reserve is currently home to around 10,000 rats and 1500 possums. That’s frightening when you consider rats are prolific breeders.
When it comes to saving our native species, there is no middle ground.
Complete eradication of all introduced predators is the only way to protect our birds and restore our forests to their natural state.