PHOTO: Rod Morris

Joining up effort to reinvigorate New Zealand’s wildlife capital

The Predator Free Dunedin project draws on the combined effort of over 20 conservation-related agencies and groups, building on community restoration efforts over more than ten years and TB predator control investments by OSPRI.

The work is split across three projects where delivery partners lead on-the-ground efforts. These are City Sanctuary (Dunedin City Council), the Halo Project (Landscape Connections Trust), and Predator Free Peninsula (Otago Peninsula Biodiversity Group).

The project’s goals are varied and ambitious with the eradication of possums from the Peninsula, a reduction in possum numbers to zero density across 10,000 hectares in West Harbour and Mount Cargill (including stoat numbers reduced by 90%), and a reduction in possum numbers across 35,000 hectares in the west of State highway 1. The work doesn’t stop there with the continued removal of possums from urban reserves and backyards. Predators will also be eradicated from two small ‘stepping stone’ islands in Otago Harbour.

Dunedin’s renowned wildlife includes seabirds like royal albatross and yellow-eyed penguins on Otago Peninsula and forest birds such as South Island kaka, South Island robins, riflemen, and tomtits, concentrated around Orokonui.

Q and A with the project, March 2024

What is the project most proud of?

We’re incredibly proud of the way our community continues to get behind the vision for a Predator Free Dunedin. From hosting a backyard trap, to being our eyes and ears on the ground and reporting possum sightings; people coming together over the collective goal to eliminate possums from Dunedin’s urban and rural landscapes is our project’s greatest strength. Our future vision is to also eliminate rats and stoats from the area.

Better outcomes for biodiversity are being seen across Dunedin. More and more, we hear reports of increasing native wildlife. The chime of tūī and korimako is now a standard part of many people’s gardens, titīpounamu are successfully fledging in our urban reserves, and our forests are healthier than ever.

Lastly, we are proud of our progress towards possum elimination on the Otago Peninsula. As we enter our final winter operations to achieve elimination, the Peninsula is down to very low possum numbers. New tools and techniques have been essential for removing the last animals with possum detection dogs, scat dogs and thermal drones being used. City Sanctuary is working hard on a ‘coastal buffer zone’ to prevent re-invasion. A further line of defence is being established, with great progress being made by the Halo Project towards the ‘zero-density’ possum goal. The FTP remote mesh network is being deployed to help the continuation of large-scale remote work with low labour costs.

Looking back, it is heartening to see how far we’ve come. Together, with our three delivery partners, we have removed nearly 60,000 possums, over 20,000 rats and nearly 2,000 mustelids from Dunedin’s landscapes. We’re taking pride in catching fewer predators!

What stage is your project at?

We are at the ‘possum mop up’ stage on the Otago Peninsula. This involves using a range of tools to monitor and catch the last few remaining possums. We are approaching ‘zero-density’ in the large areas buffering the Otago Peninsula.

What’s next?

• Possum elimination on the Otago Peninsula. Our focus in that area will be on maintaining the gains we have achieved so far.
• Achieving ‘zero density’ of possums within the Halo ‘zero zone’ and achieving elimination by 2025.
• Achieving ‘zero density’ in areas bordering the Peninsula and the Halo Project — to protect these areas from possum reinvasion.
• Increasing our focus on outcome monitoring to report statistical evidence of the increasing biodiversity we are seeing around the city, because of decreased numbers of invasive predators.

What tools have been most useful for your project?

Our project works across a variety of different ecosystems and environments. To reflect this, we use a range of different tools, including trail cameras, chew cards, community reports, scat detection and hunting dogs and thermal drones.

On the Peninsula, the team have found scat detection dogs, hunting dogs, and thermal drone technology particularly helpful in locating and removing the remaining possums. We will soon trial a helicopter with thermal imagery. We expect possums will be visible at 250 metres, so we may be able to shoot isolated individuals as we spot them.

The Halo Project is now one of the biggest users of the AT220 traps in the country. These self-resetting traps allow for increased possum control and massively decreased labour. An AI add on from FTP Solutions has now been added to a portion of the AT220’s. This AI tool allows the traps to differentiate between target and non-target species and has the potential to be used for biodiversity monitoring in the future.

Launched October 3, 2018
PF2050Ltd investment $4.33m
Total project investment $15m
Funding commitment 5 years
Project lead Predator Free Dunedin Charitable Trust
Māori partners Te Rūnanga ō Otakou, Kati Huirapa ki Puketeraki
Collaborators Dunedin City Council, Otago Regional Council, Department of Conservation, OSPRI, Otago Peninsula Biodiversity Group, Landscape Connections Trust, Manaaki Whenua, Otago Natural History Trust
Ambition 30,000 ha
Design Possum free Otago Peninsula, suppresion north of the harbour, an urban buffer, and use of SH1 as a natural boundary.