This is your life—Dave Murray

Department of Conservation —  04/05/2012

After 39 years working in conservation, Dave Murray retired at the end of February from the Te Manahuna Area Office in Twizel. A sociable character, you always knew when Dave was in the room! His lively presence will be missed in the office.

Dave spent the last 30 years working with critically endangered kakī in the Mackenzie Basin. Over this time he developed a huge depth of knowledge on New Zealand’s unique braided rivers, having worked within all major riverbeds from Godley river in the north, to Ahuriri river in the south.

Dave on his honeymoon. In Seaforth Valley, Fiordland

Name: Dave Murray.

Job position: Ranger – Assets-biodiversity, Te Manahuna Area office, Twizel.

How did you get into conservation work?

I started off working for the New Zealand Wildlife Service. The job was very diverse and I was one of the last people to get a job without a degree or the internal traineeship. There were only 200 employees in the Wildlife Service working in the field so you knew everyone—you could ring anybody for advice. It was far less formal, and more relaxed than DOC. There was not much money and you had to do everything on a shoestring.

I spent some time in Rotorua doing law enforcement work and then moved to the West Coast. I spent several years carrying out bird and vegetation counts in the beech forest. We worked from Westport through to Okarito, concentrating on areas that were likely to be involved in logging.

Early days looking after kakī in Mackenzie Basin for the New Zealand Wildlife Service

What was your role with DOC?

After a stint as the sole Wildlife Service officer in Hokitika, I was asked to come and look after the kakī/black stilts in Twizel in 1981. Since that time I have seen the kakī numbers slowly increase. Kakī would have been extinct by now if we hadn’t been doing what we have been doing.

How did the Kakī Recovery Programme get started?

In 1981 there were only 23 kakī left. Ron Neilson was working for the New Zealand Wildlife Service in Dunedin and he came up and realised there were not many kakī. Also, Ray Pierce was doing a thesis at Otago University on black stilts and pied stilts and he figured out that between the two species, there were not many left.

Dave on a kakī release near Lake Tekapo in winter

Have you any thoughts on preservation of our braided rivers and wildlife?

How do people use riverbeds without stuffing them up? It would be good to fence off riverbeds and allow people to walk around them and not be able to drive. I‘ve seen a huge increase in the number of 4WDs in riverbeds over the years. I have also seen people park in the middle of black-fronted tern colonies to go fishing and wonder why the birds are annoying them.

Most winters Dave would run away from the office… here, in Nepal on Chhukung Ri, 5830 metres

What was the best part of your job?

Walking the river deltas on calm, clear days in winter… then spotting banded kakī that I knew and seeing them survive in winter—it’s pretty encouraging.

What is your favourite place?

Okarito on the West Coastis a place that is special to me.

Dave in South Westland

What are your plans now?

I’ve got a lot of images to categorise. I’d also like to photograph new stuff—I have just been photographing saddlebacks and stitchbirds. I take pictures of birds doing things, I don’t like posed pictures.

Dave’s wife Liz, daughter Tara, and Dave after finishing the Kepler Challenge