Archives For Awareness Month

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).

March is Whio Awareness Month. To celebrate this, we thought we would profile a slightly unique staff member, Fern the whio dog based in Ohakune.

Fern the whio dog in the snow.

I love going to work in rain, hail or snow

Name: Fern Dog.
Position: Species dog – kiwi and whio.
Office: Ohakune.

At work

Some things I do in my job include… finding kiwi and whio that humans seem incapable of locating. It’s so easy to sniff them out and I’m not really sure why they have noses if they aren’t prepared to use them. I’m also involved in advocacy work at schools and end up with a heap of kids sitting on and around me. I don’t really mind that because the kids make quite a fuss over me, and my ranger (Malcolm) talks about cool stuff like stoats and rats and possums.

The best bit about my job is… finding whio that the rangers can’t locate and listening to them discussing when they had last seen the birds and how they thought the birds had either been preyed upon or left the area. I have just started to help my ranger move the whio into nets for banding and that is very cool. I don’t like herding sheep but ducks are neat to herd and I get to swim in the deeper water because Malcolm is a bit of a sook once the water gets up to his waist.

Fern the whio dog crossing a swing bridge.

At first my ranger Malcolm was a bit scared of crossing swingbridges, but I showed him how it is done

The funniest DOC moment I’ve had so far is… when we were herding ducks into a net and I had done a great job when ranger Bubs said he would move the last ducks with a volunteer (as he had a real rapport with this pair). I lay in the sun with Malcolm and then we got a radio call to say the ducks had gone to ground and they couldn’t find them. I took Malcolm downstream and located the first one in a cave but was informed Bubs had already checked that cave out. Well he must have been using ‘boys eyes’ because ranger Ali looked in the cave and came out with a whio. How surprising!

Then I took Malcolm further downstream and pointed the second bird out to Bubs who actually managed to catch it. ‘At least he got that right,’ I thought to myself. When Malcolm told ranger Ali that we had caught the second bird she was very indignant as she had a huge net across the river and a heap of volunteers ready. I couldn’t help laughing to myself and I am pretty sure Malcolm had a grin on his face.

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is… Neo, a male German short hair pointer who owns Andy Glaser. He’s not quite as big as me but he is very handsome. We have discussed having puppies together at some stage. He bought ranger Andy down to Mangatepopo a few weeks back and showed me how good he was at locating and herding whio. He is seven years old and works whio very well. Once I saw him working I thought ‘I’m going to be as good as him,’ and I have stepped up to be like Neo. He said he has taught Andy all he knows about species dog work and I am teaching Malcolm so that he can work at a higher level too.

Fern the whio dog sniffing out whio.

The nose knows

On a personal note…

The song that always cheers me up is… ‘Who let the dogs out’.

My stomping ground is… Mt Ruapehu and the rivers of the central plateau.

If I could trade places with any other person for a week—famous or not famous, living or dead, real or fictional—it would be… Neo.

The best piece of news I’ve heard lately is… that I passed as a fully certified whio dog for the Department of Conservation.

Fern the whio dog pointing out whio on the river.

Here is me doing what I do best: pointing out whio to humans

In my spare time I… rush round on Malcolm’s farm and show up the farm dogs that are slow and have noses and ears painted on their faces.

If I could be any New Zealand native species I’d be… a falcon/karearea because then I could fly to the whio and give them one hell of a fright.

My secret indulgence is… food and I would make a good biosecurity sniffer dog at an airport.

If I wasn’t working at DOC, I’d like to be… a deer dog as deer are so easy to locate compared to kiwi and whio.

Fern and Ranger Malcolm monitorwhio in the Tongariro forest.

Me and ranger Malcolm monitoring whio in the Tongariro forest whio security site

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is… ‘They are still making them!’ when humans whinge about something broken or missing.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is… don’t be grumpy because life is too short.

In work and life I am motivated by… DOC rangers who are so passionate about New Zealand’s environment and biodiversity.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is… look after it or lose it.

To celebrate Whio Awareness Month, Auckland Zoo held two Whio family fun days last weekend at the new whio enclosure. Communications & Engagement Advisor Robyn Orchard recounts the ‘whiotastic weekend’:

Raising awareness of whio and their importance to our environment was the objective of the whio family fun weekend at the Auckland Zoo at the weekend. And as Captain Whio, Andy Glaser, would say it was ‘whiotastic’!

Andy Glaser and his team before the zoo opened for the day.

Captain Whio (Andy Glaser) and his team before the zoo opened for the day

Over 7,000 people came through the Auckland Zoo gates over the weekend and my guess is that more than half of these came to see the new whio enclosure, take part in the Blue Duck Race, get their faces painted, talk to DOC and Genesis Energy staff, and get their photo taken in front of the giant $10 note whio billboard (check out the good looking DOC models above).

The weekend kicked off early Friday morning with the official unveiling of the new exhibit material in the enclosure. For me and my Genesis Energy colleague, Jenny Burke, it was an early start to get everything ready for the guests. At 6.30 am it’s still dark and a little spooky at the zoo; there are some weird noises with all those animals waking. I am sure I heard the lion or tiger roaring for breakfast – I was just praying that they were still well locked up.

Emily shows children how traps help to protect whio.

Emily showing some of the children how the DOC 200s work

Daylight was peeking through when the guests arrived at the new whio enclosure. The enclosure’s whio information was a collaboration between Auckland Zoo, Genesis Energy, and DOC. Jonathan Wilcken, Director at Auckland Zoo, welcomed more than 50 guests to the zoo for the breakfast launch. He thanked Genesis and DOC for working with the zoo staff in getting the whio information ready for opening.

Ali helps children colour in whio images at Auckland Zoo.

Ali explains the whio colours to some of the colouring kids

DOC Director General Al Morrison spoke about the importance of building on the partnerships DOC have with Genesis and extending the relationship DOC has with the zoo. He said that with Genesis Energy’s commitment, DOC’s expertise and Auckland Zoo’s engagement we would be able to spread the whio message far and wide.

High fives at the end of the rubber duck race.

High fives all round at the end of the whio race

The first 500 people visiting the zoo on both Saturday and Sunday received numbered blue duck ticket for the 11.30 am blue duck race. By 10 am, on both days, the blue duck tickets had been given out.

Captain Whio and his ranger team are used to getting wet when catching whio in the wild so they all donned gumboots and rubber gloves and took to the stream that ran through the zoo. Two of the rangers had the job of tipping the 500 rubber blue ducks off the bridge and into the stream when Captain Whio and the crowd completed the countdown.

The blue (rubber) ducks race at Auckland Zoo.

Racing the blue ducks are off and Mithuna is hurrying the stragglers along

The whio family fun weekend at Auckland Zoo was an awesome experience and an amazing opportunity to get the whio message out. One of the highlights for me had to be on Sunday morning when I went to get breakfast before the zoo opened, walking up to the café I was met by four zoo keepers taking the cheetahs out for their morning walk.

There are many New Zealanders who will most likely never get the chance to see a whio in the wild. But here in the new whio enclosure, the zoo has brought the High Country to Auckland, making it possible for thousands of people each week to learn about the whio and see them close-up.

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).

March is Whio Awareness Month. To celebrate this, we profile Andrew Glaser—Whio Recovery Group Leader in the Te Urewera/ Whirinaki Area Office.

Andy and dog Neo walking in Te Urewera National Park.

A walk in the park, Te Urewera National Park

At work

Some things I do in my job include… trying to be the best ambassador/leader for whio, to inspire people, motivate and provide quality technical advice that will achieve whio recovery across New Zealand.

Some of the other things; Programme Manager Biodiversity Assets/Threats, Te Urewera Mainland Island, Area Compliance Officer, Fire Response Co-ordinator Whakatane/Opotiki, North Island Species Dog Certifier and a Whio/Kiwi Dog Handler.

How? Great support from my manager and a highly competent team of guys and girls in the Te Urewera Mainland Island and whio recovery programme that have the same passion and drive!!!

The best bit about my job is… being “Caption Whio”, a caped crusader for the Whio Recovery Programme, I can legitimately wear my underwear on the outside, because I know I have the support of my loyal sidekick and accomplice Tim, aka “Duck Boy” Allerby! Seriously. The whio work; a 4.30 dawn start, watchin’ the sunrise, riding up the river on my horse Ziggy, the feeling of contentedness and familiarity of horse and his gate, the creak of the leather saddle and clip of his hoofs over the coble and rhythm. The river environment; cool fresh air, the smell of the bush and Te Waiiti singing over the boulders as it runs through Te Urewera. The enjoyment of watching Neo hunting the river’s edge in search of whio, stalking ever so slowly then locking into a full point. The whistle of the male whio calls carrying across the chorus of the river’s song followed by the rattley growl of the female protecting a brood of seven ducklings. That’s the best!

Also working with a whole bunch of like minded whiolks associated with the programme, and achieving the success we have to date has been whiotastic!

Andy on Kaharoa trig, Te Urewera.

Top of the world, Kaharoa trig, Te Urewera

The awesome-est DOC moment I’ve had so far has been… initiating the partnership with Genesis Energy through the Whio Recovery Group in August 2010. This has been the most significant national milestone for whio conservation.

Their sponsorship, marketing capability and enthusiasm has provided us with the resources to implement the Whio Recovery Plan to raise public awareness and achieve whio recovery across New Zealand.

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is… Dr Murray Williams. Murray was very inspirational in my career, demonstrating his dedication through 15 years of whio studies on the Manganui o te Ao river and his knowledge of waterfowl. He freely transferred his knowledge and taught me the tricks of the trade using his dry wit and sarcasm to keep me on my toes and always motivated. I guess I have tried to emulate these qualities through my career and similarly inspire and motivate people by encouraging them within their programmes and transferring the knowledge that I have gained over the past two decades (geez is that how long it’s been!).

Andy doing whio work in Te Urewera National Park.

Whio work in Te Urewera National Park.

On a personal note…

Most people don’t know that… I whakapapa to a line of American pioneers that settled in Nevada from Spain, hence my cowboy antics, love of horses and can do attitude. Ole’!

The song that always cheers me up is… I love music and there are so many songs to choose from, but this is a recent one that makes me smile. “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz.

In my spare time I… love to surf! It’s like baptising the soul, cleaning out all the cobwebs, washing away worries n stress, while getting an upper body work out. Quite a magical spiritual feeling of freedom, harnessing a piece of Mother Nature’s power and riding clean open wave face. Oooooh yea. Sorry, only a surfer knows the feeling! This may explain why I like whio, they too like water.

If I could be any New Zealand native species I’d be… well, they’re all cool. From the cute little rifleman, to the hunters of the sky – the karearea, that scream through the sky at great speeds – and to the checky kea which some have likened me to. But if I had to pick, I would honestly say – yes, you guessed it – a whio!

That way I could play in the highest quality New Zealand waters, run some rapids, surf some standing waves, go with the flow and soak up the sun on a river bank. If bored, I could whistle, bite some tail, preen, dive, have a wrestle with the neighbour and keep an ever watching eye on what’s going on. Then, when feeling the need for speed, would take to wing and scream up and down the river at low levels like a fighter jet.

My secret indulgence is… I have a few: coffee, red wine (merlot), tequila, Mexican food, hot n spicy things, green salads, venison back steak bbq’d whole to m/ rare, mangos, strawberries, blueberries, fresh coriander and sexy… whio 😉 Got to love those lips, the only bird that has them. Haha even Angelina Jolie can’t compare!

Andy going for a surf.

Clean open face, oooh yea!

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quotes …

“Time to Cowboy up” – My dad.

“Take a teaspoon of cement and harden up” – My daughter (we breed them tough) haha.

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

“Even though it’s work Andrew, nobody says you can’t have fun along the way” – Jono Williams, Project Kiwi, Kouatunu Peninsula.

In work and life I am motivated by… the challenge to succeed, by my kids, with the desire to leave a lasting legacy for them and an example to follow. I am also motivated by strong, passionate people with a commitment for conservation, team unity, positive open culture and people with drive. People like the members of Recovery Group, who go above and beyond for the cause, hugely committed in their national roles for whio. I am motivated by every practitioner and by all the hard yards that each and everyone has demonstrated through their initiatives and dedication to get their whio recovery programmes up and running. The community groups – Friends of Flora, Wapiti Foundation – and individuals like Dan Steele who see conservation as a New Zealand identity worth preserving. Tangata whenua for their staunch passion for the whenua, the ngahiri, tikanga and toanga species that dwell within Aotearoa. The recent partnership with Genesis has given new motivation through their sponsorship to enable us to actually turn the corner in whio conservation and secure this iconic species.

Ooh and a great cup of coffee!!!!

A net full of whio fledglings caught by Andy for tagging.

A net full of whio fledglings

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is… our natural heritage is your identity as a New Zealander and what makes you as unique as the whio itself is to this country.

If you could be invisible for a day, what would you do? I feel like I’m invisible already, well at times! I would be quite mischievous, nothing deviant or illegal, not in my nature but probably pranking my friends, random people and have a laugh. Boo!

Whio Family Fun Day at Auckland Zoo!

Andy Glaser and some of the other whio rangers will be at Auckland Zoo this weekend for the Whio family fun days at the new whio enclosure. Bring your families along to check out the enclosure and to join in a variety of fun activities around the enclosure.