The plight of New Zealand’s unique
wildlife is well known. It’s sad story of vanishing, vulnerable or otherwise struggling species, and diminishing and/or irrevocably changed habitats. But there are also some examples of clear forward thinking, calculated risk management, and success against the wildest odds.
The establishment of mainland islands around New Zealand is the latest technique in the drive to re-establish viable populations of some endangered species. This is happening by providing safe havens on the mainland of New Zealand for endangered, and/or locally extinct species.
The initial impact of humans on islands was severe. The competition came not only from humans, but from our ?camp followers’ – rats, cats, dogs, introduced birds, insects like the German wasps – even the mites and fleas carried on these new arrivals.
As early as 1894, species like the kakapo were considered in trouble, when Richard Henry ferried some from the mainland of Fiordland to Resolution Island. Of course, by then the 26 species of moa, and harpgornis, the giant eagle that preyed on them, had already disappeared.
The toll grew, until New Zealand reached the tragic position of having lost around 50 percent of its endemic land birds. Right now, another 25 percent of our birds are threatened with extinction, and most of the remaining species survive in greatly reduced range and numbers. The whole thing amounts to classic precautionary tale of the vulnerability of smallish island ecosystems. (Over the same period of colonial expansion in Africa, no birds species have been lost to extinction – the result of much larger, more robust ecosystem – although number of larger mammals have suffered.)
Marking out your territory
Recent scholarship focusing on the subject of island bio-geography has reiterated that small systems are more vulnerable than large ones. There’s direct correlation between the land area of an island ecosystem, and the biodiversity it can support, and the robustness of life aboard that ark. At the other end of the scale, extended ecosystems have proved to be remarkably robust – in Africa, for example, no bird species has become extinct this century.
Every entrepreneur knows they must start small. And they also know how vulnerable they are in these years. Why not extend the mainland island concept to your business growth strategy? Establish safe pockets then inch the boundaries out from there. Look to natural linkages between territories; also look to territories that may have natural affinity with each other, some basic similarities, but that may be geographically spread. It’s possible. Then spread outwards from them, until your own business ecosystem is sustainable in itself.
There are valuable lessons to be learned in this analogy. We need to progress in steps, steps that remain as solid scaffolding should we ever need to retreat to fall-back position for while.
In the evolution of the mainland islands these steps have included the initial strategies of translocation, and eradication. First you move vulnerable species away from the threats – if at all possible. Then you eradicate those pests and predators. And finally, think about rehabilitating the threatened species, in sustainable numbers, to their original habitat. Provided, of course, the habitat is rehabilitated itself. This is where the concept of mainland islands comes in.
Neither translocation nor eradication is long-term viable solution, but each is necessary part of ultimately getting there, and each works as fall-back situation. Translocation refers to the initial need to move endangered species to safe, predator free, environment.
Think here of small business that may need moving to stabilise and survive. It happens. Unfortunately in business, except in the most extraordinary circumstances, young enterprise is never likely to be entirely competitor-free. But you can, and should consider every possible way of minimising the risks and maximising opportunities.
An urgent, short-term priority, is to eradicate the predators and pest position, to neutralise their impact. In conservation, it means taking out these competitors as ruthlessly as those blokes in the pizza ads do – in business, you may have to find analogous, though perhaps less in-your-face ways of neutralising.
Alan Saunders is the Wellington-based mainland island coordinator for the Department of Conservation. His passion for mainland islands belies his knowledge in the practical aspects of managing these campaigns. He understands, for instance, the kind of human-management techniques necessary to maintain long-term commitment to cause. Despite setting aside around 30 percent of our land area as conservation land – relatively high proportion internationally – historically we never did much about it. Granted, lot of the land is marginal. But still, with our large conservation estate, we lost an enormous amount – 50 percent of our native birds that have become extinct, and 95 percent of lowland forests and freshwater wetlands that have disappeared.
“We can’t afford complacency for passive conservation. Now we must actively intervene to prevent extinctions,” says Saunders.
Looking for headlands
Islands are vulnerable. So the ultimate goal is to get the species re-established on the mainland, first in small mainland islands, then in ever-increasing areas.
In March 1999, the Department of Conservation provided 21 North Island robins from Tiritiri Matangi to the Auckland Regional Council park at Wenderholm on the mainland. The headland at Wenderholm (immediately north of the Waiwera Thermal Resort on State Highway 1 between Orewa and Warkworth) had been intensively managed as mainland island for some years previously.
With the help of volunteer groups, the Regional Park rangers had effectively eradicated introduced predators for the headland, and were confident the robins could survive there. And they did. In the first summer, 16 of the birds paired up, and fledged around 20 chicks. It was the first time the song of the robins had been heard in that part of the mainland for over 100 years. All of which gives added credence to the recent ARC publicity campaign for its parks, which proclaimed them as “Natural Masterpieces”.
For obvious reasons, headlands are favoured sites for mainland islands, as the perimeter to be patrolled is so much shorter. Simply put up short fence (and trapping or poison bait line) across the base of the peninsula, and let the sea protect the rest.
That said, there are still many inland mainland islands that have shown remarkable success too. The slopes above the eastern shore of Lake Rotoiti in Nelson Lakes National Park. My wife and I took stroll in light snowfall there recently. The cathedral-like atmosphere of the beech forest, with the deep green foliage, and the dark tree trunks, was made more magical by the previously missing element – bird song.
Although we were near freezing our buns off, the tuis, bellbirds, fantails and tits kept up ringing chorus, in thanks for the efforts that had been made in that area to control pests, especially the introduced wasps which hog the honeydew, an essential foundation to the forest food chain.
The original mainland island, at Marpara is also way inland, an island of forest in sea of pasture.
Perhaps the most dramatic of mainland island repatriations happened on Tuesday July 4, when 20 little spotted kiwi were returned to Karori Wildlife Sanctuary in metropolitan Wellington. Managing mainland areas as though they were islands is challenging enough on its own. Doing it in the middle of the city is revolutionary, and may well be world first. The Government recently announced the investment of an extra $10 million to the Kiwi Recovery Programme – over and above the amount