Jobs at DOC: Jeff Hall – Biodiversity Ranger

Department of Conservation —  25/10/2013

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).

Today we profile Jeff Hall, Biodiversity Ranger on Mana Island.

At work

Sirocco on Jeff's head.

Sirocco looking pretty happy with himself.

Some things I do in my job include… a long and varied list of all the jobs, big and small, involved in managing an island sanctuary.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by… enabling the recovery of some of our endangered taonga (treasures) and showcasing what can be achieved when we work together. I also inspire mainlanders to enhance and protect what we’ve got.

The best bit about my job is… every day is different and filled with new challenges, and as a bonus my family are closely involved in my working environment. When I dreamed of one day growing up and becoming a “Park Ranger” this was it, doing it all – from mowing lawns, to talking to visitors to wrestling with endangered animals.

The strangest, scariest but ultimately funniest DOC moment I’ve had so far is… my first night out catching a kakapo as part of a small but specialised crack team of professionals on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island. Our target was a girl called Fuchsia, who had outsmarted many who had gone before by choosing to roost too deep for any arm to reach.

So on dusk we assembled to position ourselves around her burrow entrance in the hope of grabbing her for a transmitter change before she disappeared into the night.

I was on point, well actually I was perched on the limb of an old rata above the burrow out over a fairly steep slope, the bottom of which disappeared in the failing light.

Just on dark I picked up a movement outside the entrance, I noted there was no movement from anyone in the team, this was my moment! Quick as a wink and in gazelle like fashion…. Nay, my legs had gone to sleep, so I promptly fell from my perch and proceeded to roll down the steep slope, all the while wondering if I had just flattened poor Fuchsia, or if it would be her or I to the bottom of the hill first.

While regaining my bearings a flash of green in Phil Marsh’s torch light tore by (so I had indeed beaten her to the bottom, and she was alive!). Phil graciously paused from the chase to check on my welfare (more like yelled “You all right Jeff?”) as he galloped past and secured the ‘target’. I’d have been right up there with him, if only my legs had woken.

That was the first of many eventful captures of kakapo and other adventures on Whenua Hou, and Anchor Island in Dusky Sound.

Jeff in Anchor Island harbour holding a crayfish.

One of Tangaroa’s gifts from the bountiful Anchor Island harbour

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is… hard to single out as the list extends to most of my like-minded colleagues past and present around the country. But a shout out must go to someone who’s got commitment, a strong work ethic and is just a damn good sort to work with. It also helps that she gave me the opportunity to go catch kiwi on the Milford track, opening the door to species work thereafter. She’s been known to also throw a damn good party. So cheers Hannah Edmonds, I know you’ll keep doing what you do best.

On a personal note…

The song that always cheers me up is… well not wanting to upset those who know me…it’s really hard to go past just about anything from the 1980s/early 90s Bon Jovi back catalogue. From ‘Living on a prayer’, ‘Wanted dead or alive’ to ‘Always’. I’ve been known to belt out one or two of these classics in karaoke from time to time.

My stomping ground is… Eastbourne, Wellington was where I spent my early years. Which is lucky as I spent what you could call my formative years on the North Shore, and Harbour are playing some atrocious rugby at the moment – so go the Lions!

My best ever holiday was… my wife would want me to say that it was the time we sprung a surprise wedding while holidaying in Rarotonga with the rest of my whanau. But as I have just explained to her as she reads this over my shoulder that the best ever day of my life is not the same as my best ever holiday.

My best ever holiday was back when I had (relatively speaking) nothing to be responsible for or about, spending a few weeks in eastern Europe with two good mates in their Bedford campervan “Edna”. Every evening we had to find a reasonable slope (not too steep that we’d fall out of bed) to park the old girl on to give her a running start in the morning. Once we went to sleep in an empty lot on the edge of a small town in Lithuania and woke to find ourselves trapped in the middle of a huge farmers’ market for most of the day. The Oktoberfest in Munich: I recall my thought at the time being “Wow, this is like Disneyland with beer!”, which in hindsight may well have been the beer talking! We convinced plenty of people in Poland we were an eighties revival cover band called ‘Cougar’. And just getting to be young larrikins in a foreign land – without causing any lasting offence to those around us of course.

Fun times that we still reminisce over until tears of laughter pour down our faces.

Assortment of seafood and steak.

Surf and Turf Anchor Island style – the back steaks are from the last deer eradicated in 2008

If I could be any New Zealand native species I’d be… that alpine clown the kea, ridge skipping my way across the mighty Southern Alps and nimbly extracting double chocolate muffins from a hapless ski lift operator’s pack while he was busy putting bums on T-Bars.

Before working at DOC I… (amongst other things) was putting bums on T-Bars at Porter Heights ski field and missing my double chocolate muffin for smoko.

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is… “It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees” – a quote from the song ‘Power and the Passion’ by Midnight Oil.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is… “Effort brings reward”. Cheers Dad. Or then again, when I was contemplating a career in boxing, Dad chipped in with “Son, you’ve got to learn to take a punch before you give a punch.” Hmm…maybe I’ll become a Park Ranger after all!

In work and life I am motivated by… lately it has been seeing other peoples’ reactions to seeing the things I have grown accustomed to seeing on a daily basis on Mana Island, like their first takahe or gecko.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is… get amongst it! Seeing is believing! If everyone just chips in we can ensure this land of ours remains the best living space on Earth.

Jeff and his children on Mana Island.

Mana Island – home for now

Question of the week…

If anything were possible, what animal would you most like to have as a member of your family is… the adult and purist in me says none, but my inner child says “Dad, can I get a Sirocco for Christmas?”