More than meets the eye: Richard Johnston

Department of Conservation —  01/08/2021

We recently launched a new series on the Conservation blog – More than meets the eye, where we share the untold stories of our staff, their mahi and their experiences at the Department of Conservation/Te Papa Atawhai.

Today we’re talking to Richard Johnston, Conservation Dog Handler and his dogs Flint and Kōwhai based in Wellington…

Watch the video or scroll down to read Richard’s story.

Tell us more about you

My name is Richard Johnston. I grew up in the beautiful eastern Bay of Plenty where I’ve been immersed in nature from a young age. Our amazing coast and seemingly endless bush invite all to enjoy from hunters to photographers, trampers to bird watchers.

Constantly being surrounded in nature grew my love for animals, which led me to become a zookeeper before joining Te Papa Atawhai. I always wanted to be in an industry that provides opportunities for people to make connections with animals. I was involved in international conservation efforts, breeding programmes, biodiversity protection and provided the best possible care for some of the world’s rarest animals.

Being a part of international projects and research that enabled the protection of our world’s animals, which was an awesome part of my life. But as I got older, I wanted to be a part of Aotearoa New Zealand conservation projects. This job is a perfect fit.

On the home front, I’m extremely excited about becoming a father for the first time. I can’t wait to get to know my daughter and to pass on as much knowledge as I can; watch her grow up and experience New Zealand’s rich native flora and fauna together.

Richard with Kōwhai and Flint. Photo: Chantelle Conroy

Tell us more about your job

I work as a pest detection dog handler. My dogs and I roam around all the pest-free islands and mainland sanctuaries around New Zealand. The dogs show me the presence or absence of their target pests using their amaing scent tracking abilities. We also conduct biosecurity checks and do some advocacy work to encourage others to take on conservation efforts. Our work programme is supported through a partnership with Kiwibank.

Find out more about the Conservation Dogs programme.

Richard with Kōwhai advocating about the work he does with the Conservation Dogs Programme.

How does your role align with Te Kaupapa at Te Papa Atawhai?

I work alongside many others, not just within the Department, but with the New Zealand communities such as iwi, community groups, schools and landowners.

My dogs and I also help provide information and assistance to make New Zealand predator free and help Papatūānuku thrive.

Rodent detection dog, Flint. Photo: Daniel Gardner

What does your average workday look like?

I like to say that my office is all of New Zealand as I can be deployed to different places.

When I’m out on the islands my days consist of following the dog(s) around, over and through many kinds of terrains from steep cliffs to rugged coast lines, and through thick bush. Or we will be hopping on and off boats and helicopters to get to beautiful places.

One response to More than meets the eye: Richard Johnston

    Kathy Chandler 07/08/2021 at 1:13 pm

    Awesome work you and your dog do Richard! You must see a lot of fantastic places