New trust: Wakatipu Wildlife Trust director Ting Zhang and chairman Tom Pryde

Imagine if the whole Wakatipu Basin was alive with the sound of tuis and bellbirds. That vision’s a step closer with the formation of a new predator-control trust. Philip Chandler discusses the aims and objectives of the Wakatipu Wildlife Trust

Life’s about to get tougher for the Wakatipu’s rats, stoats and other nasty critters.

That’s because the Wakatipu Wildlife Trust was launched on Thursday night.

It’s an umbrella group for about a dozen community organisations involved in ridding their neighbourhoods of rats, stoats, ferrets, possums, hedgehogs and other predators.

The trust’s aim is to help the various groups’ efforts to bring back native wildlife – principally birds like tuis and bellbirds but also geckos, skinks and bats.

Those populations, and others, are being devastated by these predators.

The trust got underway after the Department of Conservation invited these groups to a meeting a year ago.

Chairman Tom Pryde says many of these groups, and others around New Zealand, were formed after former Prime Minister John Key launched a crown entity, Predator Free NZ 2050, last year.

“Suddenly, this focused people’s attention,” he says.

Currently, local groups trapping predators include those based in the Routeburn-Dart, Paradise, Closeburn Station, Bob’s Cove, Fernhill, Kelvin Heights, Jack’s Point, Lakeside Estates, Kingston, Arthurs Point and Arrowtown.

“No one wants to change what they’re doing – they’re passionate about getting birds back in their patch,” Pryde says.

“We want more groups to be formed, the more the merrier, because our ultimate ambition is to have every square inch of land in the Wakatipu Basin covered by some community group or other.

“That’s very aspirational and, you might say, almost impossible, but unless you try, it’s never going to happen.”

Predator-trapping: A trap on Brow Peak, near Arrowtown

Apart from encouraging more groups, the trust will help with the purchase of traps, Pryde says.

“We’ll have more grunt in terms of raising finance, and we can buy traps cheaper because we’re buying in bulk.”

The trust, which is receiving a lot of support from DoC, will also act as a forum for sharing information and exchanging ideas, and recently appointed a director, Queenstowner Ting Zhang.

It received $31,462 from local company Real Journeys’ conservation ball at Walter Peak four months ago.

Pryde, who’s been aware of the issue through chairing the Paradise Trust, based near Glenorchy, says there’s no doubt predators are ravaging local wildlife, often through destroying their eggs.

“You tell me one species that isn’t being affected,” he says.

“There’s bugger-all tuis – the country used to be alive with tuis.

“When did you last see a bellbird or a mohua?

“We’ve lost so many species and there are so many others that are down to the last few hundred or the last few thousand.”

No one knows how may predators are out there.

“All we know is there’s thousands – they’re hiding in the bushes and trees, they don’t come out for a head count.”

He explains that there are rudimentary traps, which kill just one predator before they have to be reset manually, or dearer ‘Good Nature’ traps which reset themselves about a dozen times.

Trap line: Estelle Poirot setting a trap line at Wye Creek. PICTURE: PHIL GREEN

Pryde’s got no doubt his trust can successfully fundraise but says the big issue’s finding people to service the traps. He’s hoping for major community buy-in, until scientists find a non-trapping, virus-based solution.

“If people bought a $100 trap, had it set up in their backyard, they might catch one stoat or one rat a month.”