Ruapehu predators face a cold winter

Date 5 August 2019

For the possums, stoats and rats that terrorise the Ruapehu’s birds and bats, this winter might be their last.

A large-scale aerial predator response programme for the mountain’s southern slopes, from State Highway 4 west of Ohakune to The Whangaehu River at Tangiwai, will severely impact numbers of possums and other pests, and give birds like kiwi, kereru and whio an opportunity to breed undisturbed in the Spring.

Even the short-tailed bat, pekapeka – vulnerable to rats, stoats and feral cats – will benefit from predator control, and endangered shrubs like the mistletoe, an epiphyte which grows high in the beech forest, will get some relief from possum browsing.

Department of Conservation staff and OSPRI, which runs the TBfree programme, are collaborating to protect native wildlife and eradicate bovine TB from the Southern Ruapehu region.

Reducing and keeping the possum population low reduces the risk of TB being spread and will increase the survival rate of the vulnerable species in the region.

The operation, scheduled for late July, will see predators targeted by aerial 1080 cereal baits distributed across about 44,000 hectares of the Rangataua Forest and the Tongariro National Park. It will knock down possums, stoats and rats but pose no risk to drinking water.

Only small-scale pest control has been possible with the resources DOC has available to manage a vast area around the mountains of the Central Plateau. Warmer winters and favourable breeding seasons with plentiful food mean possums, stoats and rats have done well. With a predicted mega mast expected to boost seed drop further, an aerial predator knockdown couldn’t be better timed.

The TBfree programme is undertaking this winter’s predator response as part of the TB eradication work that aims to remove the disease from wildlife by 2040 with a joined-up series of operations that tighten the cordon on disease and create buffer zones between infection-risk areas and TB-free areas. Once possum numbers are low enough for long enough, TB cannot persist and dies out naturally.

The programme uses possum control, regular herd testing and stock movement restrictions to contain and eradicate TB.

TBfree aims to clear TB from cattle and deer in the area by 2026, and have TB gone from New Zealand by 2055.

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Southern Ruapehu ed small

A TBfree operation will see predators targeted by aerial 1080 across about 44,000 hectares of the Rangataua Forest.