Jobs at DOC: Stephen Horn, Senior Ranger, Antipodes Island Mouse Eradication

Department of Conservation —  21/11/2014

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 Stephen Horn, Senior Ranger, Antipodes Island Mouse Eradication…

Stephen up to his chest in the Landsborough River. South Island. New Zealand. Photo: R.Dunn.

A refreshing crossing near the headwaters of the Landsborough

At work

Some things I do in my job include:

Planning the operation for eradicating mice from the Antipodes. This involves looking at previous eradications to learn lessons; setting up monitoring to identify risk; and getting a team together that can carry out the work.

Stephen Horn on Antipodes Island, looking north towards Bollons Island. Photo: J.Ware.

On Antipodes Island, looking north towards Bollons Island

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by:

Restoring sites that are recognised globally for their uniqueness and ecological value.

The project has a large external funding and support component through the Morgan Foundation, who achieved a substantial increase in awareness of the subantarctic region and ran a public fundraising campaign in 2012 that will contribute significantly to the eventual cost of this project.

A winter sunset on the southern part of Macquarie Island. Silhouette of pack and dog on a hill.

A winter sunset on the southern part of Macquarie Island, about 4 pm.
I was working on the eradication project out there

The best bit about my job is:

Exposure to some really experienced operators and, of course, occasionally getting to work on my sea-legs and visiting some remote places.

Building materials on a stony shore, with an elephant seal sleeping right next to them.

We had managed to haul a heap of building materials ashore, to repair
a landslip damaged hut on Antipodes, when this elephant seal
decided it was a good spot for a sleep

The scariest DOC moment I’ve had so far is:

One night, in the 2009 kākāpō breeding season, I was candling two eggs at a far away nest while the mum was away looking for food. As I went to put the second egg back, to my surprise, there was already a kākāpō sitting on the nest, despite me being positioned in front of the entrance!

She had snuck in a second entrance that I didn’t know about and I was left holding the egg. That was one of those “umm…what now?” moments!

After some rapid consultation I carefully placed the egg on the ground, directly in front of her and she simply rolled it under her brood patch, with the other egg, as calm as you like. Sigh of relief on my part.

2009 kakapo chicks. Photo: Dianne Mason.

The 2009 kākāpō breeding season was one of the best ever with
33 surviving chicks

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is:

There are many inspiring folk in DOC. The dedication of the staff and knowledge applied to the cause of the kākāpō was pretty inspirational.

Graeme Elliott and Kath Walker also deserve a mention, as do some of the folk I hung out with in bivvys on Resolution Island.

Marty Genet deserves a plug for the quality of his jokes and Stan Somerville for some of the best stories.

Three men, four dogs, and lots of snow, on Macquarie Island.

Confab with some of the guys on Macquarie

On a personal note…

Most people don’t know that I:

Have a collection of small tortured bonsai trees that I have had since watching Karate Kid II as a youngster. Weird I know. I can’t explain it.

The song that always cheers me up is:

Raindrops keep falling on my head—it reminds me of Fiordland and, of course, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

My happy place is:

Being up high looking down on a valley, or sitting beside a mountain stream—preferably with the sun playing some active role in the scene.

Mount Hooker. Photo: R.Dunn.

Mount Hooker: I quickly learnt that short shorts don’t combine well with
a harness; and that snow reflection can cause sunburn on the inside
of the upper thigh. Seems so obvious now

My best ever holiday was:

Traversing part of the Pyrenees in France.

Lunchtime in the Pyrenees.

A Pyrenees picnic

My greatest sporting moment was:

Black and white photo of man with a small horse and text: A notable if somewhat reckless horseman, he was often seen riding at speed through the streets of Arrowtown.

I feel this would be a worthy aspiration
as an epitaph

When I scored the winning goal to beat Otago at the Hatch Cup hockey competition in Palmerston North in 1990.

The win was described in the Southland Times and I think my mum still has the cut-out.

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is:

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try spending a night in a hut with a mosquito” ~ Anon.

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

“Don’t give up until the end—then you can have a cry” ~ 5th form rugby coach.

In work and life I am motivated by:

Friends, wild places, community minded people. I don’t tend to contribute too much to the community, despite good intentions, but always admire those that do.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is:

As the world grows up and we all get more tempted to shelter everyone from everything—go and show a young person the amazing things and experiences that await in the wilds and remember the value of freedom that you enjoyed in your own youth.

The sense of independence and wonder that comes from exploring is probably the best feeling in the world and the best mechanism to spread conservation.

Question of the week…

What’s the weirdest thing you have eaten?

I worked in France a few years ago and, in the backwoods of the southwest, they shoot anything that moves.

The guys shooting on the property where I worked one day presented my hosts with a pie as a thank you that consisted of a large number sparrow sized birds slow cooked in wine, still with their heads on. Apparently you were meant to chew around the beaks.