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Celebrating Conservation Week, cycling the Timber Trail and visiting godwits—catch up with the recent updates from DOC Director-General, Lou Sanson.

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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).

Today we profile Nick Fisentzidis, Services Ranger based on Kapiti Island.

At work

Nick and Sirocco Kakapo.

Nick and Sirocco Kakapo

Some things I do in my job include… I’m lucky enough to have a pretty defined role as the hihi/stichbird contractor on Kapiti Island.

This basically involves feeding, counting, catching, banding and reporting on Kapiti hihi. It also includes liaising with plenty of hihi gurus to come up with better ways of managing the Kapiti hihi population.

As well as this I support my partner, Genevieve, in her position as Kapiti Island ranger by doing a whole bunch of other things such as checking traps, track work, working with volunteers, paying accounts and everything else that comes with her varied role.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by… continuing the great work that has been undertaken on Kapiti over the last 100 years, to help keep the island safe and chock full with rare species, and to inspire those who visit to learn about their environment and their place within it.

The best bit about my job is… There are a fair few ‘best bits’ when you are fortunate enough to live and work on a nature reserve.

Having takahē walking along the deck in the morning; talking the ears off visitors about hihi (or anything Kapiti related really); being a small part of the history of such a special island; but what I really enjoy is continuing to learn about the island on a daily basis.

This place is full of surprises and mystery and I love the fact that there is still so much more to discover about it.

Being able to talk to those, with past and present connections, to the rock is how I’ve come to realise what a privilege it is to work here, and also importantly, that it won’t last forever so enjoy it while we can!

Nick and Kapiti Island ranger Gen.

Nick and fellow Kapiti Island Ranger Gen Spargo

The awesome-est DOC moment I’ve had so far is… Even in only seven-odd years at DOC I’ve got a few to chose from.

I think I’d have to pick sitting on the deck of the hut on Rangatira/South East Island in the dark being bombarded by white-faced storm petrels, while listening to the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final on a tiny radio that kept cutting out at crucial times.

The yell I let out when I heard that the game was over, and the All Blacks had finally broken their 24 year World Cup jinx, could’ve just about reached Eden Park.

The DOC employee that inspires or enthuses me most is… There have been plenty up until now but I’m going to have to be a bit cliché and say my partner Genevieve.

Everything Gen does (work related or otherwise) is with met with enthusiasm, humour and a touch of Aussie class (is there such a thing?).

The passion she has for this island and for conservation in general is one to aspire to. Plus she puts up with me, so that counts for plenty.

Nick at Ta Prohm, Cambodia.

Taking some photos at Ta Prohm, Cambodia

On a personal note…

The song that always cheers me up is… I Will Follow You Into The Dark by Death Cab For Cutie, from the album Plans.

My stomping ground is… Wellington and the surrounding area.

A born and bred Wellingtonian from the much maligned northern suburbs has meant I (like many) enjoyed my first tramping experiences in the Tararua Ranges. Up to Powell Hut in the snow with running shoes, swimming in the Waiotauru River at Otaki Forks after a harrowing time on the Main Range, seeing the view for a split second as the cloud clears from Maungahuka Hut. If you can tramp in the Tararua you can tramp anywhere!

My best ever holiday was… every family road trip I ever went on.

My Dad is a huge car enthusiast and loves to drive so we often planned trips around which obscure state highway he hadn’t driven yet.

I’ve seen a fair chunk of New Zealand from the back of a car that’s for sure. Perhaps staring out the back window on those early trips helped me to realise that that we live in a pretty exceptional country and subconsciously lead me to a career trying to look after it.

Jamming with staff from Camp Wabana in Canada.

Jamming with staff from Camp Wabana in Canada

My greatest sporting moment was… Making the Wellington U-16 cricket team in my teens (my Mum still has the clipping from the paper). Even though my cricketing career didn’t go much further than that, cricket is still a slight obsession. And by slight I mean massive.

If I could be any New Zealand native species I’d be… As much as I’d like to say hihi they actually have a pretty tough life! Getting bashed around by tui and bellbirds, struggling to find old trees to nest in, putting up with annoying humans wrapping plastic and metal rings around their legs and leading them to a life of sugar water addiction…

Maybe I’ll just go with a kea so I’d have the luxury of soaring above the Alps as well as being able to pull apart some poor tourist’s rental car. Sounds like the best of both worlds to me.

Nick with a cheeky kākā on Kapiti Island.

Nick with a cheeky kākā on Kapiti Island

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is… Recessions come and go but extinction is forever.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is… Don’t trust anyone whose collar is a different colour than their shirt.

In work and life I am motivated by…Humble people.

I’ve been fortunate to meet and learn from those who I’d really describe as New Zealand conservation royalty, and more often than not they are down to earth and so modest about the truly amazing work they have done.

It is something to try to remember that regardless what you have contributed, to conservation or in any other field for that matter, to never get too big for your boots. Because this whole conservation thing is far bigger than one person!

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is… Visit and spend time in your (emphasis on YOUR) special places and discover why we need to do everything we can to look after them. They’ve all we’ve got.

Question of the week…

If you had the choice between the super power of flight, being invisible or mind reading, what would you choose and why?

Probably invisibility, so I could secretly watch and attempt to better understand what hihi really need. Or maybe mind reading would be better for that… I guess if I could read their minds then I’d actually know what they need! Mind reading it is.

Today is World Wildlife Day, a unique opportunity to celebrate the rich diversity of our planet’s animal and plant species and remember how their continued survival in the wild is linked to our own.

World Wildlife Day - 3 March.

World Wildlife Day also marks the anniversary of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

This agreement regulates and monitors trade in animal and plant species to ensure it does not threaten their long-term survival in the wild.

African elephant and calf.  Photo: Arno Meintjes | flickr | CC BY-NC 2.0.

CITES monitors the illegal killing of elephants and shows us that we face a critical situation with the poaching of the African elephant and smuggling of its ivory

In New Zealand CITES rangers are at the front line of the enforcement of the Convention. Today, DOC CITES Ranger, Anita Jacobs, shares with us a day in the life of a CITES ranger…

CITES ranger Anita Jacobs.

Anita Jacobs

I wake up in the morning thinking about what I might find today at the Auckland Airport. Today is one of my designated days to go to the airport to process the detained and seized items collected by Customs and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

I am part of a team of four that checks and manages the imports and exports of approximately 35,000 species (parts or derivatives thereof) that are covered by the CITES.

Auckland International Aiport.

Auckland International Aiport

As I leave for work the thought of what I do every day fills me with wonder. Not one day is the same and inevitably something new happens that stretches and exercises my brain.

I arrive at the international passenger terminal and, as usual, there is an array of items seized during the past few days, waiting to be processed. As I work through the items, mostly traditional Chinese medicine and corals, the importance of my job and the effect that is has on conservation worldwide strikes me once again. What I and my colleagues do on a daily basis has a direct effect on the conservation of a particular species. What an awesome responsibility!

Ivory tusks at Auckland airport.

Ivory tusks

As I wade my way through the items I come across a rolled up skin. As I roll it out on the bench I realise that it is a snake skin. I can scarcely believe my eyes; it is a king cobra shed skin. It is utterly beautiful and complete. Carefully I roll it back up again and make notes that it can be released to the importer. As it is a shed skin, considered a waste product, it does not fall under the rules of the convention and can be returned.

King cobra skin.

Dealing with shed snake skin is all part of the job

I then head over to the international mail centre and collect all the items that have been held for our inspection.

I find a massive Chinese paint brush made out of some sort of animal horn.  I turn it around, look it up and down, and rack my brain trying to determine from what species this came from. As it does not meet biosecurity requirements for import I take photos to send to the museum for positive identification. As you do, I take up the brush and pretend to draw in the air; we all have a bit of a laugh and I put it away. As it turns out, this ‘brush’ was of more interest to Customs as it was literally stuffed with cocaine! And there I was playing with this thing! You just never know in this job.

Back at the office I share my experiences of the day with my colleague and together we go through all the items that I have brought back from the airport.

Going through my correspondence I see that we have received applications to export live birds to Japan, bagpipes with ivory ferrules to the United Kingdom and an import of red pandas to Auckland Zoo. What variety in one job!

Red panda in a tree.

Overseeing the import of red pandas to Auckland Zoo

The importance and responsibility as a CITES Ranger to manage the international movement of endangered species means good liaison with both domestic and international agencies. On top of that we need to liaise with and educate the public as to the importance of this Convention.

I may not work out in the field doing ecological surveys or relocating kiwis but what I do ensures that the work we do on the ground has a positive effect on species numbers and conservation internationally. That makes me feel good and I know that I am an integral part of global species protection.

As I sit in the Auckland traffic on my way home I think about what lies ahead tomorrow. Whatever it may be, I am looking forward to it!

You can find out more about CITES on the DOC website.