Second Nature: An update from Nicola Toki

Department of Conservation —  08/12/2015

By Nicola Toki, Threatened Species Ambassador

It’s been another busy month in the world of threatened species. With 985 threatened species and a further 2700 at risk, it’s no surprise that our work is pretty full on.

nzes-conferenceI’ve been busy too, and have had the pleasure of participating in many events relating to our most vulnerable natural heritage. Among other things, I attended the New Zealand Ecological Society Conference (a week’s worth of local ecology overload) with over 300 conservation scientists and experts. The conference included 250 presentations on research and conservation work happening around New Zealand; incredible!

Build me up buttercup!

A couple of weeks ago I joined passionate plant man and DOC ranger Danny Kimber at the beautiful Kura Tawhiti/Castle Hill, where we shot a story on the endangered Castle Hill buttercup. Just 67 plants remain on the planet! Life isn’t easy for this highly specialised flowering plant, especially with a recent plague of mice, constant predation by hares, and encroaching weeds.

Castle Hill buttercup.

Castle Hill buttercup

But an onslaught of pests is no match for our dedicated DOC team! A new hare-proof fence will make life a brighter shade of yellow for these amazing wee plants. Find out why you should love the buttercups as much as Danny does by watching the story.

Meet the Locals at Wellington Zoo

Last month Wellington Mayor Celia Wade Brown and I opened the “Meet the Locals – He Tuku Aroha” section of Wellington Zoo. This entire section of the zoo is dedicated to our wildlife, with a real focus on visitors connecting and engaging with the natural environment of Aotearoa. It was an honour to represent the Minister of Conservation and speak at this event, which drew a crowd of over 300 people.

Nicola Toki and Celia Wade-Brown opening "Meet the Locals – He Tuku Aroha" at Wellington Zoo.

Opening “Meet the Locals – He Tuku Aroha” at Wellington Zoo

Meet the Locals He Tuku Aroha is a journey through New Zealand from the coast, to the farm, through the bush, and ending in the mountains. Karen Fifield, Wellington Zoo Chief Executive, said, “Meet the Locals He Tuku Aroha is a celebration of our country, our animals and our people and is Wellington Zoo’s love story for Aotearoa New Zealand.” I couldn’t agree more (and of course, I do love the name they’ve chosen!)

87% of New Zealanders now live in towns. For that reason, the importance of zoos showcasing our native wildlife and telling a cohesive story about how unique it is (and what we need to do to protect it) cannot be underestimated. In addition, zoos provide wildlife hospital care, animal husbandry services and expertise. Increasingly, many New Zealand zoos and wildlife parks are also engaged in conservation on the ground in the wild, often working hand in hand with DOC staff or other agencies and communities.

DOC Air New Zealand partnership in latest Air New Zealand ad

You may have spotted me and my gecko mate Kermit in the latest Air New Zealand commercial. This was a fantastic experience which I enjoyed along with my workmate, Nelson partnerships manager Martin Rodd, and a bunch of very excited and lovely kids from Miramar Central School in Wellington. We spent two weekend days with a film crew and Air New Zealand staff in the beautiful Abel Tasman National Park.

Kermit the Northland green gecko.

Kermit the Northland green gecko

We’ve received lots of great feedback from the public about DOC’s work with Air New Zealand. In my mind, the partnership makes perfect sense. We’re both ‘selling’ the same thing (our national identity) which of course hinges on our natural environment and importantly our connection to it. Martin and I have both endured some good-natured ribbing for our cameos, and I particularly liked this ‘tribute’ shot that Martin’s team took in the Abel Tasman recently.

I also enjoyed hanging out with the Air New Zealand crew, including these two cabin crew. Despite scorching temperatures, they were in their full dress uniform on the beach!

Nicola Toki with the Air New Zealand crew in Abel Tasman.

Hanging out with the Air New Zealand crew

Richard Henry – book relaunch

This month I also attended the launch of the new edition of “Richard Henry of Resolution Island”, which is the only definitive account of the life of New Zealand’s first ranger and pioneer of island conservation. I’ve written about him before, when I visited Resolution Island as a volunteer for stoat control work with the DOC Te Anau team (while I was seven and a half months pregnant!).

Nicola Toki with author John Hill.

The relaunch of the Richard Henry book

Richard Henry, in my view, was the Ed Hillary of the natural world in New Zealand. Between 1896 and 1900 he took it upon himself to row more than 500 kākāpō and kiwi to offshore islands in a bid to give them sanctuary and safety from the wave of introduced predators (including stoats, ferrets and weasels). After five years of rowing precious cargo away from predators, he saw what he termed a ‘weasel’, and realised all of his work had been in vain.

Of course his work wasn’t really in vain: his skills in translocation of birds, using dogs to track kākāpō and kiwi, and the idea of keeping birds safe in predator-free environments are all cornerstones of New Zealand’s conservation work today. I only wish he had been around to see us declare Campbell Island (11 000 ha) pest-free in 2005. That is quite a legacy.

The book “Richard Henry of Resolution Island” was published in 1987. It was written by John and Susanne Hill, who made it their labour of love to tell his story. I was lucky enough to meet them shortly after my visit to Resolution Island. Sadly, Susanne died a couple of years ago and is dearly missed. I imagine Susanne would have been thrilled to see the book published again.

The opportunity to own a copy of this amazing story is now within grasp (it has long been out of print), thanks to Cadsonbury Print in Christchurch. The new edition includes an update on our kākāpō programme by Alison Ballance, and can be purchased on the Smiths Bookshop website. If you are interested in conservation in New Zealand and haven’t heard of Richard Henry, or you don’t know much about him, I highly recommend this book.

To find out more listen to the interview with book’s co-author, John Hill, on the Radio Live website.


The DOC Threatened Species Ambassador is proudly supported by Air New Zealand. Follow her updates on Facebook and Twitter.