There was relief and celebration at Shakespear Open Sanctuary at the end of last month, as the sanctuary declared itself free of stoats.
Stoats have been at large in the sanctuary for almost two years after a pregnant female was discovered in March 2020.
It was the biggest stoat incursion since the sanctuary became pest free in 2011 – a stoat can give birth to up to 11 young. They are a major threat to birds, especially species that spend time on the ground such as saddlebacks (tieke), kiwi and stitchbirds (hihi).
Eight stoats have been trapped. Their impact on Shakespear’s tieke population wassignificant, according toOpen sanctuaries senior ranger, Matt Maitland.
“That population has been greatly depleted but some remain and are showing signs of breeding,” he says. “We found evidence of other species in caches including kereru and bellbird but it’s hard to quantify the impact on those populations are they are reasonably prevalent within sanctuary.”
Maitland says the sanctuary’s stoat-free status was confirmed by a visit from two stoat dogs and handlers.
“There’s been no sign of a stoat since August 22, but it was thought there might be one male left. However, despite a huge amount of camera, track and dog work, nothing was found,” he says. “So we are now confident that zero means zero.”
Although ridding the sanctuary of stoats was a team effort, the leadership, innovation and perseverance of two of its rangers, Emma Whitton and Bruce Harrison, was key to its success.
Maitland says removing the stoats brings huge relief, tempered with the knowledge that pest incursions can happen at any time because of the unprotected fence ends, gate openings and uncontrolled movement of people and goods.
Next on the hit list were multiple ship rats, which were detected within the pest free fence late last November.
Rats are implicated in the extinction of many native birds, including saddlebacks. They target eggs, young and even adult birds. Ship rats also climb, so not only ground dwelling birds are vulnerable.
Concerted efforts to remove them brought no further sightings since early last month.
“We need a month from the last sighting, so on February 8, we may be able to say that one’s done too,” Maitland says.
Cats may be in firing line Maitland says the sanctuary’s motion activated cameras have picked up a few domestic cats in its buffer zone. “We’re encouraging local residents to know where their cats are at night and keep them at home,” he says. “We have a policy of live trapping in the buffer zone and working with landowners. If we can identify a cat’s owner, via a microchip or collar, we will make contact and give them a one-time warning. But they need to put measures in place to stop a reoccurrence. There is zero tolerance of cats within the fence.”