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Predator tracks trigger hunt at ZEALANDIA

Mustelid tracks, likely from a weasel, have been found inside the fence at Karori ecosanctuary ZEALANDIA, triggering an immediate hunt for the unwelcome predator.

Conservation and Research Manager Dr Danielle Shanahan said that while incursions are very rare, ZEALANDIA is well-prepared to deal with the situation and is working with experts to plan and carry out an eradication programme.

The footprints were discovered on 1 October 2018, and were found during a routine annual pest audit in a tracking tunnel. This has prompted an immediate incursion response by ZEALANDIA staff, supported by expertise and resources from organisations including the Department of Conservation, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and Predator Free Wellington.

“Our first priority has been to get a full and detailed understanding of the situation,” she said.

“We have spent the last day carrying out a thorough assessment of the fence to ensure there are no breaches, and put out camera traps to see if we can gain any more knowledge on the animal.”

The discovery was made at the southern tip of the valley, and a team of staff and volunteers are now laying traps and tracking tunnels across the sanctuary to catch the intruder.

Shanahan said that while it was too soon to be certain how the mustelid had gained entry, it was likely to be a recent arrival.

“A Department of Conservation mustelid-detection dog swept the valley in late June, and found nothing.”

The operation will continue until the animal is found and ZEALANDIA staff are confident that the sanctuary is clear of introduced predators. The incursion reinforced the importance of constant vigilance at the fenced sanctuary, including regular pest audits and careful biosecurity protocols.

“Even one introduced predator is one too many”, said Shanahan.

“A single stoat, weasel, rat or possum could cause significant harm to our birds, lizards and invertebrates. ZEALANDIA is home to many important populations of some of New Zealand’s most threatened species, and we must give them the utmost protection.”

ZEALANDIA is a groundbreaking 225 hectare ecosanctuary in urban Wellington. Since it was fenced in 1999 and introduced predators eradicated, it has reintroduced 20 species of native wildlife back into the area, including six extinct on mainland New Zealand for over a century.