We’ll need some serious innovation – Brent Beaven, PF2050

Brent Beaven —  10/05/2023

We need to eradicate rats, possums and stoats from Aotearoa by 2050. It will take hard work, money, research, collaboration and commitment across generations of Kiwis. Today, we’re diving into the most exciting bit: innovation. This is the third blog in this PF2050 series.

By Brent Beaven, Programme Manager Predator Free 2050

📷: Peta Carey; Brent Beaven and Saddleback/tīeke

Being predator-free means eradicating every last stoat, rat and possum in the country.

That’s a tall order, and it wasn’t immediately clear how we might do it.

But following the announcement of Predator Free 2050 in 2016, Kiwi innovators got straight to work, supported by investment from both the public and private sectors. The ambitious target of PF2050 has already galvanised the innovation community, stimulating research, investment and effort to greater heights.

In less than a decade, pest control has entered a whole new era of cost-effective efficiency and accuracy.

While the hurdles to the ultimate goal might seem high to us right now, the huge technological advances that have already been made confirm that they lower with every breakthrough.

So, what’s the plan?

We, DOC, are leading the programme that currently involves 26 national entities, and all are guided by the PF2050 Strategy, which sets out the interim goals that will get us to the ultimate objective. All over the country, designers and engineers are developing new tools that will help meet those milestones.

There are two key technical challenges facing us – how to scale up the size of the areas we can eradicate; and how to defend these sites from reinvading predators.

Consider this in the context of the country’s difficult topography, and the sheer cost, which means it cannot all be done by manual labour.

Our pest control tools, then, must become smarter, safer and more cost-effective.

Our Tools to Market programme directs $1.4m of investment every year into devices that will do just that, and more. The funding supports the full gamut of steps from proof of concept, through research and development, to prototype testing at a landscape scale. Once proven, they will be available to everyone involved in Predator Free 2050.

It’s a complex issue

Eradicating predators is an order of magnitude harder than simply keeping their numbers down, because you need to get every single individual.  The ability to do this on the mainland, at a large scale, and then defend those areas from reinvasion is a key focus for us.

Both jobs demand smart, autonomous devices, and Tools to Market is funding just such a thing. Print Acquisition for Wildlife Surveillance — or PAWS — is a quest for a low-cost sensing device that automatically identifies a range of predator species. It will work a little like a desktop scanner: when an animal steps onto a pad, sensors capture the outline of its pawprint, then compare it to reference profiles in the device’s own memory. If it comes up with a match to a target species, the device will automatically alert wildlife managers.

The project is jointly led by Lincoln Agritech Ltd, Boffa Miskell and Red Fern Solutions. PAWS will help us know when we’ve reached certain interim Predator Free 2050 goals, such as eradicating all mammalian predators from New Zealand’s offshore islands.

On another detection technology pathway, ZIP (Zero Invasive Predators) recently unveiled an Artificial Intelligence camera. Atop an A-frame, beneath a kea-proof steel cover, is a thermal camera, aimed at the ground, where ZIP’s own ‘Moto-lure’ automatic dispenser leaves a daub of fresh food lure each day.

A sensor trips the camera each time something comes within view. On-board AI software then runs an algorithm that compares the animal’s size and shape against reference profiles in the camera’s memory and confirms an ID. If it turns out to be a rat, stoat or possum, the device sends an alert through ZIP’s radio network to a ranger’s phone.

Clearly, all cameras, sensor pads and traps need an effective long-lasting, attractive lure, and that’s been the focus of Wellington UniVentures, the commercial arm of Victoria University. Some food lures work well with rats, but they don’t keep well in the backcountry.

Dr Michael Jackson and colleagues have developed instead an encapsulated rat lure based on chemical compounds. A device broadcasts those compounds a little at a time, so that one capsule might last six months or more, dramatically reducing the time and cost of replenishment.

At the end of the day

The second key challenge for PF2050, is changing the scale to “much larger”.  Our largest New Zealand eradication to date has been Campbell Island, which is approximately 30,000ha.  We need to get much bigger than this, and this challenge demands new tools and techniques.

For instance, stoats are presently controlled either directly by trapping — at huge labour cost — or indirectly during 1080 operations.  We need a more targeted, stoat-specific toxin, which is why Tools to Market is funding the development of para-aminopropiophenone, or PAPP, for short.

PAPP, injected into fresh mince, is already used in ground control, but to meet the scale of PF2050’s goals, it must ideally be spread from the air. So, researchers are working on an encapsulated bait that will both survive being dropped from the air and remain fresh.

Any eradication will rely heavily on accurate, targeted applications of toxins, often in difficult terrain, or in remote locations such as offshore islands. Supported by a $790,000-investment from Tools to Market, Kiwi startup Environment & Conservation Technologies Ltd (ECT) are testing a new, lightweight bait spreader that could be used under a heavy-lift drone. That testing will use non-toxic baits to determine whether such a device could deliver the required target bait density safely and at reasonable cost.

In the backcountry of the future, a PAWS or Artificial Intelligence device might send an alert directly to an autonomous drone, then­ guide it straight to the site of an incursion.

Tools to Market is, in effect, investing in ingenuity and imagination, and with each problem those talents solve, we take another step closer to being predator-free by 2050.

I’m looking forward to what the future holds in the innovation space. Watch this space, we’ll keep you updated.

Ngā mihi

Brent Beaven

📷: PF2050

For more about the PF2050 strategy, including a run through of the tools that are going to get us there, visit www.doc.govt.nz/nature/pests-and-threats/predator-free-2050/innovative-tools-and-technology

11 responses to We’ll need some serious innovation – Brent Beaven, PF2050

    Mary Molloy 06/06/2023 at 8:23 pm

    Appalled by your constant need to kill and kill with poisons, Brent and company..
    Can you not understand that your aerial work kills a bit of everything and a lot of Kea, is cruel, uses the same baits and bait structure and lures?
    Unintended and unwanted consequences every time, accidental over flies every time,
    Doing the same thing over and over and over will not give you a different outcome and certainly won’t improve our biota, 50% or more of which has not even been discovered.
    Poisoners are insidious, sneaky and gutless in my opinion and employ ex police and army to intimidate local people who are sick of 1080, 1080, 1080 and no we don’t like your brodifacoum and are unlikley to embrace Papp by air either.
    As above endemic and native creatures including people who live here have a right to be here as does the most humble rat which we helped populate the world. Work with nature, not against it.


    “Our pest control tools, then, must become smarter, safer and more cost-effective.”
    So why have you not started promoting working with enviroMate100TM. It has been around since 2014. It is much smarter ,much safer and much, much, more cost effective than anything Predator free and ZIPS have come up with !

    coley ellison 06/06/2023 at 1:41 pm

    The cost to do this is just beyond what our country can afford.
    Then how about cats and wasps?

    Chris Roberts 06/06/2023 at 1:22 pm

    Those comments are irrelevant, New Zealand needs to take an effective hard line on these predators and eradicate them . Good work Brent I meet you on Stewart Island years ago , and I still hunt the Island

      Mary Molloy 06/06/2023 at 8:29 pm

      Met Brent on Stewart Island just before his failed management of Ulva Island resulted in brodifacoum drop and awful consequences which DOC pretend may not have happened. Read the robing study done for so many years prior to the drop and then altered because of the results of the drop. Other insect birds not monitored suffered the same losses proportionately, Kaka had a range of damaged young born after the drop.All bar one solitary weka killed and so on. No respect for poisoners

    Kirianakomene@gmail.com 06/06/2023 at 1:21 pm

    Are there any Jobs doing this work, I’m keen..?

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    Not when they are an introduced species and decimate our native birds/ wildlife.


      What’s introduced? What’s native? Are you native? Just 200 million years ago there one was only one land on the whole earth. Everything is native.
      There is no separation. Everything is connected. Species come, species go, life carries on. Only humans try to make their fortunes out of needless killing.

      Mary Molloy 06/06/2023 at 8:26 pm

      decimate is one in ten, poison takes out up to 76% of Kea to mention only one native bird.
      ZIP/DOC took out hundreds of breeding black backed gulls. These nest in the open and THEY didn’t even know they were there ffs..

      we are all introduced species


    Just a reminder:”each and every animal on earth has as much right to be here as you and me”.