If New Zealand is to be predator free by 2050, the previous Government’s stated goal, then we are going to need a lot of traps or a lot of poison spread around.

The use of 1080 and other toxicants is a highly divisive issue and they are not user friendly in one of the latest battlegrounds, suburban New Zealand.

The safest way to rid our backyards of rats, mice, possums and possibly the odd stoat or ferret is to trap them.

But what about our forests and farmlands? Could traps make the sort of impact that is required if we are to get on top of a problem that kills 25 million birds a year and costs the country $70 million annually?

In search of an answer, former Prime Minister John Key accompanied the National Party’s Bill English and Steven Joyce on a visit to the Wellington headquarters of trap manufacturer Goodnature, back in 2016.

By all accounts the trio was impressed with what it saw.

“I think they could see that we can do it. I think it gave them confidence that their plans (to have a predator free land) were possible” said Robbie van Dam, one of the company’s founders.

Goodnature makes the world’s most advanced trap. It is a true Kiwi success story.

Founded on a $250,000 grant from the Department of Conservation (DOC), Goodnature now has 35 employees and has paid back the investment many times over in the PAYE it generates.

So far, this year it has made 80,000 traps and is expanding its annual production to 200,000 traps.

Its flagship product is the A24. So-named because it automatically resets itself 24 times before the gas canister that powers the killing device needs replacing.

The trap is revolutionising predator control.

The A24 kills a rat or a stoat, ejects the dead animal and then resets ready for the next victim.

In the wild, scavengers deal with carcasses. No one needs to check on the trap or remove the dead animals.

“No other trap on the planet does what ours does.” van Dam told Newsroom.

Goodnature’s sales in Europe are growing rapidly, particularly to the Scandinavian countries

Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland.

“We did it (developed the technology) for New Zealand but like a lot of New Zealand companies we have found that the rest of the world has taken to this faster than our own country,”

“The Scandinavian countries have stopped putting toxicants into their environments. Europe is banning the stuff that we can still buy at Bunnings.”

DOC, Forest and Bird and Federated Farmers strongly advocate the use of 1080 but with NZ First being directly opposed to it and the Green Party adopting a neutral stance, it’s soon likely to come under closer scrutiny.

DOC’s national predator control officer Darren Peters is like most people Newsroom speaks to when the issue of 1080 gets raised – he’s nervous.

“I don’t really want to go there,” he says.

But Peters is highly enthusiastic about the new generation of traps.

“They are the way of the future, traps have a huge role to play and I there is still a lot more development to come.”

Peters believes the 2050 goal of being predator free is realistic and not some unachievable dream.

“I personally think we can do it, if we get on with it. The thing that is missing, is a strategic approach.”

“We need to get all the money that is currently spent on control and put it one pot with one plan or strategy.

The money we spend on TB control, the money the councils spend, DOC’s money and the amount coming from private donors combined would go a long way down the track to getting us there.”

“If we add up all the people we have got working in this area including all the volunteers, we already have enough labour to do this.”

“With resetting traps like the A24, we can cover 12 times the area we are covering now.”

“If we don’t get on and do this now then we won’t have a functional ecosystem – as an island state we will be dead in the water.”

Darren Peters

Peters told Newsroom that possums could be eradicated from Northland in five years if the right strategy was employed.

“We have this advantage of a huge fence just south of Northland – it is called Auckland – that nothing will get through.”

“We’ve shown how effective we can be by eradicating or controlling rats, possums and stoats on many of our offshore islands.”

Peters ran through a list of islands.

“Kapiti, Codfish, Chalkie, Anchor, Coal, Native, Great, in fact we are starting to run out of islands to do this work on.”

And Peters carefully debunks the view that some parts of New Zealand are too remote for trapping.

“We can get in anywhere by helicopter. In the end, you have to be on the ground to monitor the success or otherwise of control programmes so we might as well get on the ground now.”

Goodnature’s Robbie van Dam agrees with Peters that aerial dropping 1080 is not the only solution for rugged areas.

“That is just a lack of vision, we already have the drone technology to be able to deliver traps into remote areas.”

Asked if he is anti-1080, van Dam, like Darren Peters, is cautious.

“I don’t want to say I am anti 1080, what I am anti about is wasting money.”

“We have spent $60 million on 1080 in the last three years. That is a lot of money to spend on cyclic pest control – you get excellent results for a few months but it is often the case that in 6 months you are back to the old level of predator numbers.”

“I am not saying it doesn’t have a place but when you think about it – 1080 has never eradicated anything”.

Predator Free New Zealand’s spokesperson Jessi Morgan also told Newsroom that new thinking is required.

“We can’t get there with the tools we have been using.”

Predator free New Zealand, an independent trust funded by corporates and philanthropists, is subsidising traps for communities waging war on pests.

Morgan said the A24 was a potent new weapon in battle to get rid of pests in suburban backyards – the so-called buffer zones in the wider war.

“it is an awesome trap, really well designed,”

“People in urban environments often don’t want to muck around with getting dead animals out of single use traps and resetting them.”

According to Morgan the biggest barrier to getting more A24 traps into more backyards (the aim is to have some sort of trap in 20% of backyards) is the price. The A24 costs about $150 a unit when bought in bulk and Morgan felt the ideal price point was $100.

“When we ran a project in the Auckland suburb of Grey Lynn, we sold the traps at $100 with the help of a Kiwibank grant and they were very popular.”

Morgan said she believed Goodnature was working on a cheaper trap aimed at killing just rats and mice rather than the more robust stoats.

“Because stoats have a harder skull than rats and the A24 is designed to kill both, it’s a bit over spec for suburban use.”

Goodnature has talked about a lower cost trap and I think that would be a good way to go.”

Morgan, Peters and van Dam all agree that trapping needs to be stepped up, immediately.

“We would be foolish to think that science will come up with a miracle solution – things like DNA modification or toxicants that only kill a specific species will come with a lot of other issues. We could spend a lot of money on science and come up with nothing,” said van Dam.

DOC’s Darren Peters said the tools were already available but New Zealand is running out of time.

“If we don’t get on and do this now then we won’t have a functional ecosystem – as an island state we will be dead in the water.”

*Kiwibank, a partner of the Predator Free NZ Trust, is also is a Foundation Supporter of Newsroom.

Mark Jennings is co-editor of Newsroom.

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