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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

We’re aiming high with our Predator Free 2050 ambition. It’s a big goal, and a unique one. But everything we know about eradicating pests on the mainland, we learned on islands.

This is the seventh blog in Brent’s PF2050 series.

By Brent Beaven, Programme Manager Predator Free 2050

Image of Brent Beaven releasing tīeke/saddleback
📷: Peta Carey

Everything we know about eradicating pests on the mainland, we learned on islands.

In 1959, a small boatload of Forest & Bird volunteers bumped ashore on Maria/Ruapuke Island in the Hauraki Gulf and placed rat baits, the first tentative step on a journey that today sees Aotearoa as an acknowledged world leader in island pest eradications.

Ruapuke is tiny — just a couple of hectares — but it’s a landmark in conservation history as the site of the world’s first successful rat eradication.

It also inspired wildlife managers to much greater things. By applying lessons learned from smaller islands, they’ve been able to scale up their efforts and ambitions: in the 70 years since Ruapuke, pests of all kinds have been removed from more than 110 islands all around our coast, each one bigger than the last, culminating in subantarctic Motu Ihupuku/Campbell Island, at 12,000 hectares.

Pleurophyllum speciosum, great emporer daisy on Motu Ihupuku/Campbell Island
📷: John Barkla DOC

Rats, stoats and possums have driven many native creatures from the mainland altogether, so that pest-free islands are now the arks of Aotearoa. Without them, some species would have nowhere left to live.

They also make ideal testing grounds for new eradication methods, which makes them a key objective in the Predator Free 2050 Strategy.

On the mainland, a study site can be re-invaded by pests from surrounding countryside, making results difficult to measure. But there are no such difficulties on a remote island, giving researchers a much clearer picture of what works and what doesn’t.

To visit an island free of pests is to glimpse how Aotearoa looked and sounded before mammalian predators turned up. If you’re lucky enough to wake up at anchor off Manawatāwhi — the Three Kings Islands — hundreds of korimako/bellbirds will treat you to one of the best dawn choruses anywhere.

Korimako in the sun on Rangitoto Island
📷: Shellie Evans

Take a stroll at dusk on Hauturu-o-toi/Little Barrier and you’ll see the flitting figures of pekapeka-tou-roa, or long-tailed bats, against the fading light. Wētāpunga — giant weta — will be emerging from their hiding holes, and geckos will be climbing into the canopy to feast on nectar. The place comes alive.

On Takapourewa, or Stephens Island, in Cook Strait, dusk is when hundreds of thousands of seabirds return to their burrows, just as tuatara are emerging to hunt.

Tuatara in a log on Takapourewa/Stephens Island
📷: Sabine Bernert

Some Nature Reserves, like Kāpiti Island off the Horowhenua coast, are open to the public, and you can see native wildlife now rare or lost altogether from the mainland. On Kapiti, expect to be mobbed by kākā, see takahe leading their gawky chicks through the tussocks. The leaf litter twitches with the scurry of lizards. On Tiritiri Matangi, hear the chattering challenge of tīeke, or the gorgeous notes of the kōkako.

On a pest-free island, you realise how Aotearoa once rang with birdsong, and how the fragrance of blossom would have wafted everywhere on the air.

You can see how birds like kākāriki, kererū and kōkako once spent much of their day feeding on the ground, in complete safety. You can start to appreciate how diverse, intact ecosystems might once have worked.

In that sense, they offer us a glimpse of the future, too: of what we can expect the mainland to look and sound like once again, if we strive for a Predator Free 2050.

Male hihi on Kāpiti Island
📷: DOC

One of PF2050’s interim goals is to rid New Zealand’s remaining uninhabited offshore islands of mammalian predators by 2025, but there’s a hurdle in the way, called Maukahuka.

Part of the subantarctic Auckland Islands group, Maukahuka lies astride the Furious Fifties, 465 kilometres from Bluff. It stands in the path of some of the harshest weather and hugest seas Nature can muster — 46,000 hectares of desperate travel through dwarf forest, scrub and peat bogs. But as the fifth-largest island in Aotearoa, it’s biologically one of the richest in the subantarctic. The lower slopes are draped in southern rātā, stunted by the cold and the wind, but no less glorious in summer bloom.

The island’s open country should be rampant with megaherbs, but the ground is bare, ransacked by wild pigs. Released here in 1807 as sustenance for sealing gangs, pigs have had a devastating impact, eating the eggs and chicks of seabirds that would once have numbered in their tens of thousands. Between them, the mice and the cats, they’ve extirpated 32 bird species from Maukahuka, and wrecked an intricate nutrient cycle powered by seabirds.

Southern royal albatross on Motu Ihupuku/Campbell Island
📷: Danica Stent, DOC

The New Zealand subantarctics are a World Heritage site, recognised for their unique biodiversity. Maukahuka is the last of them to harbour pests, and if they were removed, it would add another 420 per cent of safe habitat for native biodiversity in the group — particularly the four species of albatross mostly confined to other pest-free islands in the group.

And while Maukahuka presents perhaps the toughest eradication challenge of all, field studies have confirmed it can be done. The pigs can be cleared using traps, aerial hunting and ground hunting with dogs. The mice will need a departure from standard practice, with aerial baits sown at half the usual rate, in summer rather than winter to exploit the short weather windows.

Cats can be dealt with by a species-specific toxic bait and ground hunting. All up, it’s expected to take ten years, and that’s why the 2025 islands target is the least likely of the PF2050 interim goals to be met.

Historically, island eradications have been ad hoc, assembling the necessary expertise, funding and equipment practically from scratch, and each successive project had to duplicate the process. It all took time and repeated investment. This year, all that changed with the establishment in DOC of a dedicated team of specialists.

The National Eradication Team (NET) will guide the clearance of our remaining islands with ecological and technical advice. Through feasibility studies, it’ll prioritise each island according to scale and its “defendability” — the likelihood of keeping predators off it once it’s been cleared. The NET brings a continuity of skills, and the co-ordination of resources to mount eradications more efficiently, with less duplication.

A predator-free Rakiura, or Stewart Island, is one of the most exciting prospects. Rakiura has always banked on its natural capital, and the gazettal of a national park there in 2002 put it on the itinerary of between 36,000 and 40,000 nature fans each year.

Rakiura Tokoeka, Brown Kiwi, Tin Range
📷: Mike Douglass

That’s because it holds a trump card: mustelids — weasels, stoats, ferrets — never reached there, which is one reason kiwi can wander about in broad daylight. On Ulva Island, in Paterson Inlet, people can see tīeke, mōhua, kākāriki and tītipounamu all in the space of a morning.

But the island’s forest is browsed by possums and deer, and rats and wild cats take a heavy toll on wildlife, leading in 2019 to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the four Papatipu Rūnanga of Murihiku, us at DOC, Southland councils, Real Journeys and the New Zealand Deerstalkers’ Association to pursue a predator-free Rakiura. It would be the country’s biggest sanctuary, protecting highly endangered species such as kiwi, the tūtiriwhatu/New Zealand dotterel, and the tawaki, or Fiordland crested penguin. It would also allow for the return of species long since lost from the island, like kākāpo and kōkako.

In 2020, the project got a multi-year funding boost, which allowed eradication planning and design to begin.

Meanwhile, Predator Free 2050 Ltd has funded a feasibility study to inform Tū Mai Toanga, a proposed eradication project on Aotea Great Barrier Island, in the outer Hauraki Gulf, along with three staff. Tū Mai Taonga is also supported by the us at DOC, Auckland Council, sanctuaries and conservation groups.

So while the interim goal of having all eradications completed on offshore islands by 2025 may go unmet, an exciting new chapter in the story of island eradications in Aotearoa is opening: the fight against introduced predators has moved to those isles that people call home, too. That boatload of volunteers would never have dreamt, all those years ago as they set out for Ruapuke Island, that they were writing the open pages of such an inspiring tale.

To hear Brent talk about our Predator Free 2050 goal, have a listen to the DOC Sounds of Science Podcast, which is available wherever you get your podcasts.

#25 Field yarns with Tim part 1 DOC Sounds of Science Podcast

  1. #25 Field yarns with Tim part 1
  2. #24 Kiwi as

For more about the PF2050 strategy, including a run through of the tools that are going to get us there, visit

New Zealand’s Predator Free 2050 goal — to eradicate rats, stoats and possums from the entire country by mid-century — is globally unique and unattempted. There’s no manual to guide us, no precedent to follow. How, then, do we make sure we get this right?

This is the sixth blog in Brent’s PF2050 series.

By Brent Beaven, Programme Manager Predator Free 2050

Brent Beaven, standing in front of trees
📸: Capital Kiwi

If we consider that PF2050 is a solution to a problem, then our first step is to try to understand the nature of that problem. People broadly recognise three kinds of problem: simple, complicated, and complex.

A breakdown

A simple problem is one that somebody’s solved before, so that they’ve already worked out the solution for you.

Clearly, PF2050 isn’t one of those…

A complicated problem is one you don’t know how to fix yourself. You may not even know what the problem is; you just know it’s in there somewhere. Let’s say your car’s engine is making a weird noise.

There are an awful lot of moving parts in an engine, and the problem could be any one of them, but the main thing about complicated problems is that there are experts out there who know how to fix them, even if you personally don’t.

Complex problems are more nebulous, because even experts can’t know all the forces at work in them. It follows then, that we can’t know the solutions, either. The vexing thing about complex problems is that trying to fix them often changes the nature of the problem itself — and our history in Aotearoa is full of these, more below.

So the only way to approach complex problems is to try something, and see what happens.

Maybe that will be something completely unexpected, but the trick is to learn from it before trying something else. The fancy name for this is “adaptive management” or “developmental evaluation”, but it’s really just careful, considered trial and error — giving the solution a way to emerge.

Nature and people

PF2050 means dealing with the most nebulous things there are — nature and people.

This will pose problems of all kinds, so it’s vital to take time to first understand which kind you’re dealing with, so that your response is the appropriate one.

A simple solution, for instance, won’t fix a complex problem. As proven throughout history, a simple approach is unlikely to work across diverse, complex ecosystems — precisely the sort where Predator Free will operate.

Ironically, it was this “applying the wrong solution to the problem” thinking that got us into this mess in the first place.

When the colonists brought stoats and possums to Aotearoa, they assumed they were dealing with a simple problem that could be fixed with simple, known strategies — the stoats would deal with the rabbit problem, and the possums would fix the lack of a fur trade. A prescient few saw the folly of these ideas, and pleaded for them to be abandoned, but a dogmatic cabal drove them through.

Even the naturalists couldn’t anticipate the carnage that followed, simply because nobody understood the stochastic nature of nature—i.e. random happenings or patterns that can be analysed, but are hard to precisely predict. In those days, people believed ecosystems followed certain laws, most of which gravitated inexorably towards some imagined equilibrium.

Lake Daniell Track trap on the forest floor
📸: Baptiste Maryns

In reality, they made a complex problem greatly worse: the intricacy of natural systems gave things ways to backfire beyond our most fevered nightmares.

Now, as we try to halt and reverse the harm of that kind of thinking, it’s important that we don’t unwittingly repeat it.

Learning by doing begins with the very premise that we don’t fully understand what we’re up against. We won’t succeed by pressing home a prescription on the assumption that it’ll somehow conquer the uncertainties.

It will come from treating every Predator Free project as a chance to learn more about those uncertainties. It will come, in fact, from getting things wrong occasionally. It will come from giving up some cherished beliefs and going back to the drawing board.

Our ambitious goal

Because Predator Free has a deadline, there’s an understandable sense of pressure for progress — to get some acreage ticked off right now, then to move onto the next.

But there’s a risk in that: we can’t stage-manage nature any more than the colonists could.

Snares Island mātātā/fern bird in the grass
📸: Brent Beaven, DOC

If we prioritise body counts over learning as we go, we’ll have no solutions for that inevitable occasion when Nature doesn’t respond the way we expect it to. The beauty of learning by doing — of reflecting on what went wrong and why — is that the lesson itself represents an objective met, rather than a failure suffered.

At present, there are 19 regional PF2050 projects. Each one should rightly be regarded as an experiment in breakthrough science.

Yes, the clock is ticking, but we shouldn’t feel too pressured for results just yet: we can — and should — spend half our effort and resources over the next 10 years on innovation and learning, through science and matauranga — testing as many different designs and methods as we can.

Campbell Island Teal standing on rocks
📸: Brent Beaven, DOC

Finally, we spend the balance doing — eradication projects across the full gamut of environments, the better-informed for that early trial and error.

It becomes clear that a complex problem like Predator Free lies well beyond the mandate — or the resources — of any one agency to solve.

Which is why a solution can only come from truly national collaboration between all sectors of society, business and governance. And from a willingness to accept that, if at first we don’t succeed, we do our best to figure out why …

And then we try again.

To hear Brent talk about our Predator Free 2050 goal, have a listen to the DOC Sounds of Science Podcast, which is available wherever you get your podcasts.

#25 Field yarns with Tim part 1 DOC Sounds of Science Podcast

For more about the PF2050 strategy, including a run through of the tools that are going to get us there, visit