Produced as part of Branch Out newsletter - Summer 2011
Become an animal pest control volunteer
Animal pest control is a logical addition to the work volunteer groups can take on.
Some groups have either got to the stage with plant pest work that they want to take on animal pest control, or they have people in their group with an interest in it. Often it comes down to the individual - what they are interested in and what they feel they can do.
All you need is some physical fitness, some nous when working off the beaten track and the commitment to do it on a regular basis. Handling low-toxicity bait and clearing dead animals from traps are also part of the job. Once you become familiar with the location of bait stations and traps, it can be done very quickly.
Wellington City Council Pest Management Officer Illona Keenan says the first step is normally looking after a network of possum bait stations. "These need to be checked and refilled at least once every three months and in general it is not a major undertaking. In Trelissick Park they do them monthly, checking 21 bait stations approximately 150 metres apart."
Volunteers provide their own backpack (lined with a rubbish bag), gloves and transport. You must be prepared to handle bait and have a secure location to store it. "The bait is very low toxicity and there are minimal restrictions on handling and storing it but you do need to be trained and under the supervision of Greater Wellington Regional Council staff."
The possum bait also helps control rats. Stoats, weasels and ferrets are controlled too, via secondary poisoning from eating affected animals, so it is very valuable work.
Trapping is the other type of animal pest control we support volunteers doing. Stoats and weasels are the main targets in Wellington - we seem to have very few ferrets. This involves checking boxed kill-traps regularly. "Being kill-traps, once they catch something they are inactive and have to be cleared, rebaited and reset. We provide the traps and training, and Greater Wellington install and mark the traps so they can be easily found," says Illona.
A mixture of chicken eggs and dehydrated rabbit meat is used in the traps, which are designed to keep out non-target animals. The traps take a few minutes to get the hang of but used properly they are very safe. To check the traps, all a volunteer needs is a screwdriver to unscrew the trap lid, fresh baits, a map and gloves. They are 150m apart, so a reserve's traps can be checked quite quickly.
Like a lot of volunteer work, the challenge comes when the initial enthusiasm has worn off and the routine becomes a bit of a chore. We're lucky to have some passionate and keen people who do a lot of great work for the environment and the community, which allows us to divert resources to sites not receiving any volunteer support or new areas where animal pest control is needed.
Groups get a lot of satisfaction from knowing they are controlling animal pests in a reserve - protecting their plantings, restoration efforts and any existing native forest.
If you or your volunteer group want to become involved in animal pest control, please phone (04) 499 4444 and ask to speak with one of our four park rangers.