Jobs at DOC: Avi Holzapfel, Terrestrial Ecosystems Manager

Department of Conservation —  04/07/2014

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 Avi Holzapfel,Terrestrial Ecosystems Manager in Hamilton.

At work

Avi Holzapfel in the sun on Rangatira Island, Chatham Islands.

Roughing it in the Chatham Islands in autumn

Some things I do in my job include:

Managing a team of amazing technical and science advisors. When I say managing, I really mean supporting (but ‘supporter’ does not sound good as a job title). Until entering the lofty heights of lower management I focused on species recovery planning as a leader of the Kiwi Recovery Group for 6 years, leading native frog and dactylanthus recovery groups, helping to develop the new Natural Heritage Specialist Group framework and being a Conservancy Advisory Scientist.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by:

Helping staff to do their best, and what is best for DOC.

The best bit about my job is:

Being allowed to work with keen, skilled, dedicated (and often very funny) people who share a sense of values and direction. To be part of the development of ‘things’ (strategies, processes, tools, communications) that make sense and are useful. To answer lots of emails (OK, that one is only half-true). To have the occasional trip outside to wonderful places and projects and actually being able to tell myself that I have a good reason to be there! To learn from the best teachers ever, which is everyone and everything.

A large brown frog up close in Panama.

A seriously large frog in Panama

The awesome-est DOC moment I’ve had so far is:

A few come to mind—abseiling with Dave King down a bank at Te Araroa during a dactylanthus search, using supplejack. Not the best idea, especially if it would have turned out that we were still slightly in the wrong place… (that was, of course, before I joined DOC and understood health and safety matters). Nest-minding on Codfish during the 2009 bumper breeding season, reading Lord of the Rings waiting for the female kākāpō to come back to her nest on night watches and hearing Herb Christophers sing the ‘Little Kākāpō’ song he wrote during those long hours—the night sure does strange things to people out there. Counting black robins with Dave Houston on Rangatira Island—often they were so close that I had to move away from them to read their bands. And (seriously) developing a good idea or strategy with staff—thoughts flying, heads hurting, passions glowing, and then all of a sudden we all get it—priceless (until someone shows us where we missed a bit).

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is… there are too many in DOC to do justice, therefore I’ll go outside the rule here (me, a German, can you believe it?) and say Kevin Hackwell, Advocacy Manager at Forest and Bird and a member of the Kiwi Recovery Group. He combines the skills of a terrier (not letting go) and a falcon (seeing the big picture) with a genuine good nature and an ability to target the issue, not the person. A real bridge-builder and the kind of constructive-critical friend everyone needs.

A rainbow over the Tapu Valley, Coromandel.

The view from our hut over the Tapu Valley towards Maumaupaki, Coromandel

On a personal note…

Most people don’t know that:

I have just enrolled to run my first (only?) half-marathon during the Auckland marathon in November. I’ll do it as a charity runner for Kiwis for kiwi, raising funds for kiwi recovery while proving to me and the world (well, at least previous school mates who teased me) that those are legs, not sticks! So I will shamelessly use this opportunity to advertise my fundraising page and ask for your donation, your support by forwarding it to your friends (all of them!), and to consider running yourself. There a still a couple of places left. If you are still not motivated let me know and I will give you the emotional story of my journey from desk-bound weakling to Bruce Willis-like hero in just 3 months! Seriously, though, I’ll appreciate any support for a great cause (kiwi, not my legs).

In my spare time:

I go fishing (great supplement to an otherwise vegetarian diet), read until my head hurts, cook, and play saxophone in a big band—best thing ever is when people start dancing! And spending time at a wonderful piece of land in the Coromandel that we became the custodians of some years ago. As close to paradise (with weeds) as I have come yet.

If I could be any New Zealand native species I’d be:

kauri tree—roots deep in the soil, tall, quiet, ancient.

Photo of the Holzpfel family on the couch.

The traditional Christmas photo of our family

My secret indulgence is:

Not so secret: movies! Any and all (except horror), high and low-brow, and for all ages. I used to have a specific part in my brain able to store lots of useless detail of most movies I have ever seen, and recall them at will. These days I might still store them, but the recalling bit is getting harder. My daughter (now 21) is stepping up as a real challenger for movie trivia. Ah well, a master is happy when the pupil is exceeding him…

Before working at DOC I:

Trained as a chef (very briefly), worked as a tiler (still love doing that), rolled vegetarian spring rolls in a commercial kitchen in Berlin and spent lots of time at uni (time well spent! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!)

Deep and meaningful…

Dactylanthus taylorii.

A male inflorescence of Dactylanthus taylorii

My favourite quote is:

Red sky at night: she’ll be alright. Red sky in the morning: she’ll be alright (fisherman’s weather check)

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is:

During my first travel to New Zealand someone talked about the New Zealand Wildlife Service and suggested I study in biology and then come here. Can’t believe this is what actually happened!

In work and life I am motivated by:

Teachers—the official ones, the unofficial ones and in particular those who have no idea they just taught me!

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is:

Take a holiday in Europe, where the damage to the environment was pretty much done hundreds of years ago. Then come back to New Zealand and look at how much we still have to lose, and still can protect!

The Terrestrial Ecosystem team at Mt. Tarawera.

The wonderful Terrestrial Ecosystem team at Mt. Tarawera

Question of the week…

My edible house would be made of:

Fried tofu. A seriously misunderstood food.

One response to Jobs at DOC: Avi Holzapfel, Terrestrial Ecosystems Manager


    Nice one Avi – thanks for sharing.