Private pest control lives on during lockdown - Waiheke Island, Hauraki Gulf

Credit: Article written by Sophie Boladeras and generously shared by Waiheke Gulf News - August 2021

More than 700 islanders give their time to control rats, protecting native birds such as tūī, kereru and kākā. As part of a fortnightly series, Sophie Boladeras meets some of these eco-warriors working to protect our sanctuary in the Gulf.

A 20-acre plot of steep, rugged terrain at Te Matuku is home to one of the island's most comprehensive private toxin-free trapping systems. Landowners Rosemary and Peter Thorne purchased the property around 18 years ago with a vision to restore the wild slice of island paradise, which was overgrown with weeds and overrun with rats. 

Recently, they purchased 42 Goodnature A24 traps to support rat control on their land. The traps are baited with sweet, aromatic long-life lures, which don't require the use of toxins, aligning with the couple's ethos. 

Compared to standard traps, they also don't require as much time or upkeep and have the ability to automatically kill 24 rodents one after the other, before the gas canister needs to be replaced. 

From their lockdown bubble, Rosemary tells me of the couple's vision to help native flora and fauna flourish on their Waiheke land where olive green Pacific geckos and shorebirds roam.

The majority of Peter and Rosemary's section is under a Department of Conservation covenant and the duo see themselves as kaitiaki or guardians of the land. 

"We have a lot of respect for Ngāti Pāoa and this ancestral land," says Rosemary. 

"I always think about who has gone before us. There's a lot of history around Te Matuku and we think about that and about being respectful to the land and the ancestors."

When the Thornes first bought their section, they built two little huts on the small part of the land that isn't under covenant and they would stay on the island for several days most weeks. 

"When we initially visited, it was terribly weedy and we worked hard to get it to where it's at now."

Peter, a leading auditory neuroscientist and a professor at the University of Auckland and Rosemary who works in human resources, embraced the simple lifestyle of working on their property, removing weeds and replanting. At the end of the day they showered outdoors, and at night, they would sit under the stars to relax and talk about their day.

"It was a nice way to get to know the land before we rushed into building anything," says Rosemary.

"The best thing about that set-up was being so close to nature and listening to the birds. We didn't want to close ourselves into a square box, and one night when we were sitting outside having a conversation about building something more long-term, a ruru came and perched quite close to us, and it was kind of as if it was saying, 'think about us when you build'.”  

It wasn't until 2015 that the Thornes began building a long-term house on their property. The modular home features a lot of outdoor living space maintaining the couple’s treasured connection with the environment. 

“We didn't want to close ourselves into a square box and one night when we were sitting outside having a conversation about building something more long-term, a ruru came and perched quite close to us, and it was kind of as if it was saying, 'think about us when you build'.” - Rosemary Thorne

With Te Matuku marine reserve practically at their back door, the Thornes have loved watching wading shorebirds, and Rosemary says she believes their numbers have increased thanks to protections such as the reserve designation and predator control.

"Before we got the Goodnature traps, we used standard rat traps, but there's an awful lot of poison around already and when we were able to save enough money we decided to buy the A24s."

Rosemary got in touch with the Wellington-based company around nine months ago, and the Goodnature team was keen to support the couple's rat control efforts and to help analyse their data. 

"We've been working alongside Goodnature and sharing the information with Te Korowai o Waiheke, council and DOC. We've set this up as a proper trial. We're very methodical about the process and strict in our reporting so we can share the information and really get a good idea of how it's working."

Most of the A24s are positioned in trees, and since they created their grid of traps, approximately 170 rats have been killed on the Thornes land.

When rats try to reach the food lure inside an A24, they brush past a trigger which fires a piston, killing them instantly. The piston then retracts and resets, ready for the next pest. 

The Thornes, Te Korowai o Waiheke and the Goodnature team are all interested to see the effect this A24 trial has on rat density across the 20-acre area. 

"Because the traps don't need much attention, they keep working their magic while we are away and this gives us extra time to get on with other conservation work," says Rosemary.



Contact Waiheke Gulf News to read the full story.