Trap watch: measuring Taranaki

Taranaki’s native wildlife, predators and urban trappers are in the spotlight, with some species and trap catches under surveillance 24/7, providing live data.

Taranaki’s native wildlife, predators and urban trappers are in the spotlight, with some species and trap catches under surveillance 24/7, providing live data.

Scientist Halema Jamieson, from Taranaki Regional Council, leads the region-wide monitoring that’s shining a light on native wildlife, plants and the predators that threaten them - rats, mustelids (stoats, weasels and ferrets), possums, and feral cats – as part of the region-wide project Towards Predator-Free Taranaki.

The latest monitoring figures suggest backyard trapping is working – rat and possum numbers appear to be declining in urban New Plymouth.

However, Jamieson is calling on the community to help take predator control to the next level, together working Towards Predator-Free Taranaki.

“To help wipe out introduced predators, it’s vital that backyard trappers log their predator catches on the Trap.NZ website,” says Jamieson.

“It’s critical that whatever residents’ catch - rat, possum, mouse, stoat, hedgehog - residents need to log all catches and their location at link) so the region’s efforts can be monitored and any gaps spotted,” she says.

“This will help us stop the deterioration of biodiversity, giving a better picture of how trapping is helping restore native wildlife and plants, or where it needs strengthening.”

Almost 500 tracking tunnels are around New Plymouth district and bush near Egmont National Park, monitoring rodent and hedgehog numbers. Another 360 cameras monitor around the national park and between Waiwhakaiho River and Rāhotu to gauge numbers of mustelids and feral cats.

Jamieson’s monitoring involves high-tech surveillance equipment as well as a physical approach that could only be described as grassroots – she has been diving into bushes across New Plymouth in search of lizards, and crawling around bush remnants and wetlands counting seedlings. The aim is to measure the effectiveness of the community’s trapping, and to establish where predators are roaming in Taranaki and what they get up to.

She is working with Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, which has teamed up with Towards Predator-Free Taranaki and Taranaki Mounga Project, to better understand how widespread introduced predators are in the region, and how to combat these finely-tuned killing machines so they don’t threaten our native wildlife and plants.

Biodiversity monitoring is well under way; collecting baseline data on native birds, lizards and plants. It started before intensive trapping and there are 200 five-minute bird count stations at strategic locations around New Plymouth district. These will help determine changes to key native and introduced bird species – tui, tomtits, fantails, kereru and grey warbler – which are indicator species in New Zealand, showing the health and diversity of an area’s biodiversity and ecosystems.

Lizard populations are also being monitored. Two key species – goldstripe gecko and copper skinks – are specifically being looked for in Taranaki as they are the most widespread lizard species in the region. Taranaki is also the mainland stronghold for goldstripe geckos and it is important for the species’ survival that their populations don’t continue to decline.

“To do this monitoring, I needed to crawl amongst bushes in New Plymouth parks and reserves looking for tiny lizard footprints on specially designed tracking cards. I’ll be doing this each year,” says Jamieson, who is considered a national expert on goldstripe geckos.