Smart trapping a new story for tour operators in rural Waitomo

Suzie and Warrick Denize in front of the limestone formations. Image credit: The Waikato times.Suzie and Warrick Denize in front of the limestone formations. Image credit: The Waikato times.

In New Zealand, wild and remote places bear the brunt of introduced species. With very few predators, the critters end up competing with endemic species for food, sometimes wiping off entire populations. To preserve their livelihood, farmers and tour operators have always relied on pest control.

In the Mangaotaki Valley, Suzie and Warrick Denize raise livestock and operate tours in a landscape dominated by massive limestone cliffs made famous by the Hobbit trilogy. Spanning 1.5km long and 90m high, the rock formations overlook the native bush below where, thanks to the couple’s trapping effort, native species are making a comeback. Operating in the background, their 30 A24 traps have recorded over 200 kills to date.

We chat with the busy couple to learn more about the impact of pest control on their business, Hairy Feet Waitomo, and how our A24 Trap kit with Chirp has helped their trapping.

You rely on nature for your tour and farming, how did you get into trapping?

Our family have lived in the Mangaotaki Valley nearly 80 years and we have always enjoyed sharing our property with others. Pest control has long been practiced on our property but was always hard work and just another job to squeeze into the day. The Goodnature systems have been a game changer.

We originally heard about Goodnature from our local Waikato Regional Council officer. He suggested we apply for a Small-Scale Community Initiatives Grant. Our successful application meant we were able to purchase 30 A24 Rat & Stoat Traps with Chirp. These traps not only re-set themselves but count the kills. Information is then updated via Bluetooth to the Goodnature Chirp App on our phones.

The Covid 19 pandemic had a big impact on your tours with reduced tourism and lockdown. How have you been coping?

Before Covid changed the world, we ran guided tours on our property, with 99% of our visitors from overseas. We are working on re-opening to our Kiwi travellers during weekends and if that goes well, maybe some weekdays too. Who knows what the future holds but we are not alone and that holds some comfort.

What do you find the most useful with the Chirp system? What do you do with the data?

At first, we thought the traps must have been miscounting, as they would record kills, but no animal could be found. Boy were we in for a surprise! Our young adult son (another unfortunate unemployment statistic from the Covid fallout) began early morning checks and found many fresh kills of both ship and blue rat, sometimes several around one trap. Disturbingly, if left for a few hours, the dead rats are quickly scavenged away. We plan to share this pest control story with future visitors and have a visual board in the tour shop with updated pest kill numbers. We may also offer ‘sponsor a trap’ to visitors.

Have you noticed some positive changes since you started trapping?

The 30-acre area has been closed to farm livestock for over 6 years and the bush has flourished in this time. Along with kererū, tui, bellbird/korimako and many other native birds we have falcons trying to establish their territory here. Excitingly, we have a large number of native longtail bats/pekapeka-tou-roa which have been recorded as using this area extensively.

What do you hope visitors take home after your tours?

Visitors get to see first-hand what removal of pest species does for the native animals in their natural environment. This will support tiaki (care) from all visitors, helping them take away heartening stories to share with others. Thanks Goodnature and keep the innovations coming. Who knows, maybe we can be predator free by 2050.