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DOC Ranger Caraline Abbott discusses dogs and the impact on conservation in the Rotorua District.

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by Kim Dawick

The extremely demanding nature of goat control work means most hunters only last a year or two in the role. The hunters in this story have all moved on to new things, but the dogs have been passed on and are still working for DOC.

Tahi was the result of a purpose-bred combination thought up by Joe Gurnick for use in goat control. Joe had worked with dogs his entire life, and over the years he’d seen both the good and the bad. He had very strict criteria for his hunting dogs, with a desire to breed a litter of intelligent bailing dogs, but of slightly smaller stature to the classic border collie/heading dog used by the majority of goat hunters.

Joe was the Team Leader for the (DOC Hauraki) Peninsula Project goat
control programme. Joe is an exceptional hunter with approximately 15
years goat control experience and a lifetime of pig hunting. Photographed
above working a mob of four goats with two dogs in a large bush clearing.
Note Joe’s casual approach, showing total confidence in his dogs’ ability.
Getting a working-dog to this level takes years of training

The mother to this litter was an easy choice for Joe. He chose his three year old Border Collie bitch Bella, who was shaping up to be an exceptional finder/bailer. However, choosing a sire was not so easy, despite the many tongue in cheek offers to use dogs owned by his team mates.

In the end, Joe found a sire for Bella. A 1st cross Fox Terrier/Whippet that belonged to Don Thompson, a professional rabbiter and a team member of DOC’s high priority Rangitoto/ Motutapu Island pest eradication team. It was love at first sight, and Bella soon began nesting and preparing herself for motherhood.

Goat up a tree

The day came when Bella was due to give birth. The entire goat team was there to witness it and each of us had our eye on Bella ready to choose one of her puppies for ourselves. Finally a puppy appeared, then… well…, then nothing…. To everyone’s surprise that was it! It is very unusual for a bitch to only have one puppy, so Joe claimed his puppy and named her Tahi (means ‘one’ in te reo Māori) and sent the rest of the goat team home very disappointed.

Tahi grew up fast, totally submerged in a hunting lifestyle. She was everything Joe had hoped for; small, fast, intelligent, very trainable, and with lots of tenacity.

In 2010 the Peninsula Project goat team came to an end when the hunters achieved their goal (after six years of hard toil), shooting themselves out of a job; a credit to the hunter/dog teams carrying out the goat control. Joe decided to venture overseas, having hunted his entire life; it was time to do something else. So Tahi (now a very sought after hunting dog) was gifted to Michael Walker (Programme Manager Bio Threats Hauraki, and an ex-goat hunter/team mate and close friend of Joe’s) who let Waikato hunting team member  Thomas Malcolm borrow her on a short term loan.

The Bluffs – typical goat country

It was in November 2011 when everything went horribly wrong for Thomas while hunting on Mount Pirongia (Waikato). His day started out the usual way however, at the end of the day Tahi and another dog, Haka, were missing with no explanation! Having a dog stay out overnight is not an everyday occurrence, but from time to time, as all those who hunt with dogs know, it can happen.

Thomas desperately searched every inch of the mountain looking for his hunting mates with days turning into weeks, and weeks into a month. All hope was fading for the return of his dogs, when on the fifth week we received a call from a local farmer regarding a dog which had just turned up at his house.

We asked for a description of this dog and he replied, ‘”Small, black and white, very skinny, extremely friendly, and it may have a broken leg….”

Everything matched Tahi’s description however, we didn’t want to get our hopes up—after all, five weeks (lost) in the bush is a very long time, and it may not be her.

As you can imagine, we played it cool and headed straight out there trying not to show too much emotion (as us tough hunter types do). Much to our delight, it was indeed Tahi, and the emotions were a little harder to hide this time!

Shae Turo (DOC Hauraki) holding Tahi who is sporting her trendy pirate skull
and cross bone fibreglass arm cast. She is now back in prime condition
after a week on a special high protein/fat diet

Haka was also found four months later—he was being used by a pig hunter all that time!

DOC’s use of dogs

Dogs are an essential tool in the department’s wild animal control programmes because of their ability to find wary animals in dense vegetation.

Dogs are used by DOC to find goats, deer, pigs, stoats, cats, hedgehogs, mice, rats, kiwi, blue duck, wallaby, ants, and many more animals for their handlers, all in the name of conservation.

The use of dogs in areas containing endangered bird life and/or adjoining areas of farmland is of concern to some members of the public and landowners. In order to address these concerns, DOC have strict policies in regards to the use and training of its dogs.

Every hunter/dog combination has its own particular hunting style preference.

Acceptable styles for use in the Waikato region include dogs that find and bail and/or dogs that find and indicate.

  • A bailing dog locates its target species (sometimes up to 300 metres away), and mostly works out of sight of the hunter. The dog will head (run it down, cutting in front of the animal to stop it), and then constantly bark in order to tell the hunter where it is.
  • An indicating dog stalks its target species, tracking the animal (or sometimes a mob of the target species) always within close sight (less than 10 metres) of the hunter. When the quarry is very close to the hunter, the dog will show a positive indication, e.g. it may lock onto a classic ‘point’ with one leg off the ground, a fixed tail, with the head indicating the exact direction of the quarry.

Meet the team (from top, left to right): Dudley, Dylan, James,
Kim, Paul, Ruby

Every Monday Jobs at DOC will take you behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation.

This week we look at DOC hunter, Kim Dawick:

Kim (left), with his dogs Jake, Fleur and Jesse, and Joe Gurnick (right), with his dogs Girl and Storm. Te Mata Hut

At work…

Name: Kim Dawick

Position: Ranger – Hunter Supervisor, Waikato hunting team

What kind of things do you do in your role?

I work as part of a seven person hunting team. We hunt the remote back country culling goats; occasionally we also control pigs and deer if they are causing problems to other work programmes. We camp together in huts, tents or bivies for ten day runs and then we come out for a four day rest period.

My main role is to support the hunters. It’s a very strategic position where I try to have everything organised in advance, accommodating the individual needs of six others who will all be away from home for ten days without communication. If I’m doing my job properly I should have pre-empted all the possible contingencies and the hunters should think that I’ve done nothing at all. But if I’m failing in my role… all hell breaks loose and nothing goes to plan with seven people on “hurry up and wait’’ or worst case we are stuck in isolation with inadequate equipment.

Two of Kim's favourite former goat dogs, Jimmy and Jesse, holding hands

In our team we collectively own 21 dogs. To maintain high standards we put all newly recruited dogs through a rigorous selection and training process, but unfortunately only about 20% of the dogs we trial ever eventuate into anything special. Those dogs in the upper percentile that do make the cut are worth their weight in gold and no dollar value can be put on them, as by this time at least two years of intensive hunting/training has been invested in them. Our dogs are part of the family and we really look after them—they are the real hunters and we just follow them around in the bush to take their glory.

What is the best part about your job?

We work off track, and go to places so remote that very few people will ever venture. I get to work with real characters; it takes a special person to be able to do this job. But one thing they all have in common is that they are all honest, tough people who measure the value of a person by their loyalty and the amount of work they can do in a day.

What is the hardest part about your job?

It’s a tough job, period.

Gentle Annie in Te Mata. Dogs are Beau, Jimmy, Jesse and Jake and the ‘’Where’s Wally’’ hiding near the waterfall is Joe Gurnick

Where we work there is no cell phone reception, no internet, no heaters, no electricity, no refrigeration, no toilets, no corner store or supermarkets. We have to be successful at our job or we would go hungry because we rely on getting some of the meat from the animals we hunt due to lack of refrigeration. Often the only way out is a pre-scheduled helicopter ride in ten days time. We walk for eight hours a day, all completely off track without a break for ten days in a row, and often team members will hunt in excess of 12-hour a days in the summer months and they never collect TOIL. But when it’s your passion it never quite feels like work (in the conventional way).

We spend ten days away from our families—this means that the hunters only see their wives and children for 26, four-day periods a year! Our families are stuck in the real world paying the bills, getting kids to school, working in their own jobs and dealing with all the issues of raising a family by themselves, while we are away completely out of contact. It’s very hard on relationships and many marriages don’t survive. But, given the high risk nature of hunting, we try to look after each other as much as we can and because of this there is a comradery amongst the hunters that I’ve never witnessed in any other career.

What led you to your role in DOC?

After high school I qualified as a mechanical engineer, then did a post graduate Diploma in Teaching. I worked for a couple of years in both roles however, I was never happy in these careers. Whilst on my OE (teaching in London) my wife stumbled onto a job advertising for a couple wanted for work in Scotland. We had no idea what we were getting into and just hoped that it wasn’t a dodgy b-grade porn film! It turned out that they needed a nanny and someone to work the ‘farm’. It was quite fortuitous—the ‘farm’ turned out to be a castle game estate that ran driven pheasant shoots and deer stalking. I worked in this role for about 18 months and decided that I could never go back to teaching or engineering again… I was hooked on hunting for a living, so it was a natural progression for me to end up securing a job within a DOC hunting team upon my return to New Zealand in 2004.

After 18 days hunting in gorse in the Coromandel with zero goats for a four man team, Kim struck the jackpot and shot 19 in one mob. Dogs are Jake, Jimmy, Fleur and Jesse

What was the highlight of your month just gone?

This month I’ve been doing my planning for the year ahead, organising logistics, landowner permissions and putting out tenders for goat control. I wouldn’t call it an exciting month.

The rule of three…

Three loves

  1. Family
  2. Dogs
  3. The ease at which we can experience so many interesting things in New Zealand

Three pet peeves

  1. Laziness
  2. Quitters 
  3. Liars

Three foods

  1. Banana Swiss Maid dairy food
  2. Goody goody gumdrops ice cream
  3. Meat

Three favourite places in New Zealand

  1. Coromandel
  2. Marlborough Sounds
  3. Matawai

Favourite movie, album, book

  1. Donnie Darko
  2. Anything ‘’unplugged’’
  3. More of a magazine reader than a novel reader… it suits my short attention span.

Jake (the Muss) and Xena bailing a nanny goat, Whareorino

Deep and meaningful

What piece of advice would you tell your 18 year old self?

Relax, you’ll find a job that you enjoy doing.

Who or what inspires you and why?

People who stand up for what they truly believe in, even if it’s unpopular.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Umm tall and good looking? Oh you mean: an engineer, a pilot or a hunter… two out of three isn’t too bad eh?

And now, if you weren’t working at DOC, what would you want to be?

Stay at home dad? Although this is most likely a bit like hunting for a living… everyone wants to do it, until they actually try it.

If you could be any New Zealand native species for a day, what would you be and why?

As a goat hunter we tend to defend our honour a lot by denying any involvement between man and beast. However, if you want me to play this game I may as well be at the top of the food chain and choose to be a falcon. I guess it combines two out of three from that other question before about what I wanted to be when I grew up!

What piece of advice or message would you want to give to New Zealanders when it comes to conservation?

Get out there and do it. It’s a sad indictment, but I hardly ever meet New Zealanders in the bush. Probably 85% of the people I meet in the bush are tourists using our walking tracks, 5% would be New Zealand tramping clubs made up of senior citizens (good on you, you’re much tougher than our PS3 playing teenage couch potatoes) and 10% would be hunters. Pretty sad really that we pay for all these huts and walking tracks with our taxes and the average New Zealander doesn’t even know they exist, or choose to go there.