Come behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation (DOC).
March is Whio Awareness Month. To celebrate this, we profile whio fan Andrew ‘Max’ Smart, Ranger—Biodiversity Ranger, in DOC’s Te Anau Area Office.
Name: Andrew ‘Max’ Smart.
Position: Biodiversity Ranger.
Office: Te Anau Area.
Some things I do in my job include managing the whio monitoring in the Northern Fiordland Whio Security Site and in four recovery sites. I manage the pāteke/brown teal re-introduction project in the Arthur Valley, liaise between the kākāpō team and the Te Anau Area Office, I’m the species dog certifier for the lower South Island, and assist with other biodiversity work as required (this may be translocations of tīeke/saddlebacks, kōkako, mohua/yellowheads, robins, takahē or kākāpō). I also monitor tawaki/Fiordland crested penguins and check stoat traps in Dusky Sound.
The best bit about my job is surveying for whio in wild and remote rivers with my trained whio dog and working with groups like the Fiordland Wapiti Foundation, to help protect whio habitat. It’s always nice when you feel like you are actually making a difference. Also up there is the opportunities I have had getting to places I wouldn’t normally be able to get to, like the Antipodes and Bounty Islands.
The scariest DOC moment I’ve had so far is going for a slide down a rock face in the Murchison Mountain whilst on a takahē monitoring trip on 29 February 2004 (leap day). I ended up breaking my little finger on my right hand and breaking and dislocating most of my bones in my left foot. Which surprisingly I was reasonably happy about.
I remember sliding down the face and thinking ‘If I don’t grab that small tussock I’m dead’. That’s when I broke my finger and missed the tussock…. I said quite quietly in my head, ‘Well it looks like I’m going to die, this isn’t quite how I thought it would happen’, then hit the bottom and stopped. I thought, ‘Well that was lucky, I wonder where that big drop that I thought I was going to go over is?’. I looked around and I was less than a metre from it—hence why I was reasonably happy with just a broken foot and finger.
I ended up in hospital for eleven days with a plate and five screws in my finger and five screws and two pins in my foot. I’ve still got the hardware in my finger and quite large bone spurs in my foot where the screws were. My foot gets really sore and stiff after doing a river survey, especially in winter. I keep my screws from my foot in a little jar on my table at work—always a good way to gross people out.
The DOC (or previous DOC) employee(s) that inspire or enthuse me most are Cam Speedy and the other members of the Whio Recovery Group who are so passionate about whio, even after some of them have worked with them for so many years (not looking at anyone in particular Peter Russell and Andy Glaser). This also demonstrates how great a species whio are to work with.
On a personal note…
Most people don’t know that I was born in Akaroa and that I have a twin sister (not identical – I have been asked).
My best ever holiday was a nine week trip to North America a couple of years ago. We visited 15 National Parks and numerous National Monuments and State Parks in the USA and another three National Parks in Canada. The highlights of the trip would have been Utah and Arizona (Zion NP, Grand Canyon NP, Monument Valley, Natural Bridges National Monument, Arches NP, Canyonlands NP, Dead Horse State Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Capital Reef NP and Bryce Canyon NP), along with New York City and the Labrador Coast. A walk over Clouds Rest in Yosemite NP was also very cool.
Another trip also right up there was when I saw Mountain Gorillas in what was then Zaire, climbed sand dunes and walked to the bottom of Fish River Canyon in Namibia, paddled around in a dug out canoe on the Okavango Delta and got saturated by the spray at Victoria Falls.
In my spare time I tend to do things around the house as we have just built a house and there are always plenty of little jobs to do.
If I could be any New Zealand native species I’d be either a bottlenose dolphin or kareakarea/New Zealand falcon.
If I wasn’t working at DOC, I’d like to still be working with animals. Not sure where but definitely working with animals.
Before working at DOC I worked as a forest technician undertaking time and motion studies.
Deep and meaningful…
My favourite quote is – (I don’t have one, I’m not really a quote type of guy).
The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is – I can’t think of what that would be but I’d have to say if it was, it would probably be “Don’t sweat the small stuff”.
In work and life I am motivated by trying to enjoy it as it seems to be getting shorter by the minute.
My conservation advice to New Zealanders is take conservation seriously; it shouldn’t just be a ‘nice to do’ and shouldn’t be seen as a cost, but an investment in the future.
Watch a video of Ranger Andrew ‘Max’ Smart on a whio egg hunt: