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 thought we would profile a slightly unique staff member, Fern the whio dog based in Ohakune.
Name: Fern Dog.
Position: Species dog – kiwi and whio.
Some things I do in my job include… finding kiwi and whio that humans seem incapable of locating. It’s so easy to sniff them out and I’m not really sure why they have noses if they aren’t prepared to use them. I’m also involved in advocacy work at schools and end up with a heap of kids sitting on and around me. I don’t really mind that because the kids make quite a fuss over me, and my ranger (Malcolm) talks about cool stuff like stoats and rats and possums.
The best bit about my job is… finding whio that the rangers can’t locate and listening to them discussing when they had last seen the birds and how they thought the birds had either been preyed upon or left the area. I have just started to help my ranger move the whio into nets for banding and that is very cool. I don’t like herding sheep but ducks are neat to herd and I get to swim in the deeper water because Malcolm is a bit of a sook once the water gets up to his waist.
The funniest DOC moment I’ve had so far is… when we were herding ducks into a net and I had done a great job when ranger Bubs said he would move the last ducks with a volunteer (as he had a real rapport with this pair). I lay in the sun with Malcolm and then we got a radio call to say the ducks had gone to ground and they couldn’t find them. I took Malcolm downstream and located the first one in a cave but was informed Bubs had already checked that cave out. Well he must have been using ‘boys eyes’ because ranger Ali looked in the cave and came out with a whio. How surprising!
Then I took Malcolm further downstream and pointed the second bird out to Bubs who actually managed to catch it. ‘At least he got that right,’ I thought to myself. When Malcolm told ranger Ali that we had caught the second bird she was very indignant as she had a huge net across the river and a heap of volunteers ready. I couldn’t help laughing to myself and I am pretty sure Malcolm had a grin on his face.
The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is… Neo, a male German short hair pointer who owns Andy Glaser. He’s not quite as big as me but he is very handsome. We have discussed having puppies together at some stage. He bought ranger Andy down to Mangatepopo a few weeks back and showed me how good he was at locating and herding whio. He is seven years old and works whio very well. Once I saw him working I thought ‘I’m going to be as good as him,’ and I have stepped up to be like Neo. He said he has taught Andy all he knows about species dog work and I am teaching Malcolm so that he can work at a higher level too.
On a personal note…
The song that always cheers me up is… ‘Who let the dogs out’.
My stomping ground is… Mt Ruapehu and the rivers of the central plateau.
If I could trade places with any other person for a week—famous or not famous, living or dead, real or fictional—it would be… Neo.
The best piece of news I’ve heard lately is… that I passed as a fully certified whio dog for the Department of Conservation.
In my spare time I… rush round on Malcolm’s farm and show up the farm dogs that are slow and have noses and ears painted on their faces.
If I could be any New Zealand native species I’d be… a falcon/karearea because then I could fly to the whio and give them one hell of a fright.
My secret indulgence is… food and I would make a good biosecurity sniffer dog at an airport.
If I wasn’t working at DOC, I’d like to be… a deer dog as deer are so easy to locate compared to kiwi and whio.
Deep and meaningful…
My favourite quote is… ‘They are still making them!’ when humans whinge about something broken or missing.
The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is… don’t be grumpy because life is too short.
In work and life I am motivated by… DOC rangers who are so passionate about New Zealand’s environment and biodiversity.
My conservation advice to New Zealanders is… look after it or lose it.
Great piece by man and whios best friend! Loved the sadly ironic “DOC (or previous DOC) employee”…. Keep up the fantastic work you , both man and beast, do.