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Uncle Aka the ‘perpetual bachelor’ takahē on Mana Island has found love at the Te Anau Wildlife Centre.

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By Michelle Crouchley, Partnerships Ranger, Te Anau

Following a career spanning 30 years of service to conservation, Te Anau Wildlife Park ranger Carol Gardner, has retired from DOC.

Carol feeding a kea.

Carol and one of the keas she has known since it was an egg!

‘The big break’

Carol started working in conservation so long ago that she can’t even remember the date! It all began when she started to look for work outside of her role as mother to her four children. She was married to a farmer, and at the time many employers would not consider taking on someone in her position. When Carol mentioned she was looking for work to Lands and Survey Department staff Russell Montgomery and John Clark, they offered her a job working on tracks in the Tuatapere area. Carol describes this as her ‘big break’ and will always be thankful to Russell and John for giving her that opportunity. Reflecting on this moment, Carol said “the decisions you make about other people can change their lives and we should never forget how much influence we can have on other people.”

Carol’s career has seen her doing many different jobs in many different places throughout Fiordland. In the late 70’s and early 80’s she was part of a project building tracks in Fiordland National Park.

Carol’s walking companions.

Carol’s walking companions

‘Funny moments’

Carol has fond memories of working in the Hollyford Valley with John Clark. One day the fridge broke down and they had to carry it out. John shouldered the fridge and Carol walked in front, as they passed trampers John would explain his strange load by saying “I’ve got the ice; she’s got the gin!”

She then moved to Te Anau and took on a job looking after an area that spanned from Milford Sound to Mavora Lakes; it would take her three hours to drive from one end of her beat to the other!

During this time Carol was responsible for landscaping outside Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre and caretaking in the now council owned Ivon Wilson Park. For the past 24 years she has been  taking care of our feathered friends at Te Anau’s Wildlife Park.

Carol leading a tour of the Te Anau Wildlife Park.

Carol leading a tour of the Te Anau Wildlife Park

‘What will you miss most about working at DOC?’

Carol formed a deep affection for the park’s birds. She has cared for the two resident kea since they were eggs. They are now mature 25 year old birds. She hand-reared the Canadian Geese that reside in the waterfowl enclosure and has looked after all the other birds that have lived in the park: weka, kereru, pateke, ruru, parakeets, kaka, paradise shelducks and takahe. Carol found her calling as an advocate for our native birds. It is the birds at the Te Anau Wildlife Park that Carol will miss the most now she has left DOC.

Carol’s retirement cake.

Carol’s retirement cake

‘What’s next?’

Carol’s contribution to the Department will not end with her retirement as she intends to continue her service by volunteering. She also intends to spend lots of time hanging out with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, walking her dogs and tramping.

Carol giving resident kākā, Charlie Brown, her breakfast.

Carol giving resident kākā, Charlie Brown, her breakfast

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 Caroline Carter, Partnerships Ranger in Fiordland.

At work

Caroline doing pest control work in the Murchison Mountains.

Protecting takahē in the Murchison Mountains

Some things I do in my job include:

Making friends, storytelling and magic! Basically my job involves me knowing about all the conservation work everyone is doing, and ensuring they have the resources they need to be successful. I get to share their stories with the world, inspiring others to join in the fun. Amazing things can then happen and this is where the magic comes in!

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by:

Encouraging every New Zealander to own the problem of our native species disappearing. What we do DOES make a difference and every little bit helps.

The best bit about my job is:

The big and little people I work with. In an average week I might find myself with a four year old kindy kid sharing their enjoyment of an insect found in a rotten log, and that same afternoon, be equally inspired by a colleague discussing beech mast cycles and the scientific response.

The funniest/strangest DOC moment I’ve had so far is:

Staffing the DOC careers stand at Fiordland College. The kids had a series of questions to answer about working in conservation. To spice things up a bit (and to compete with the Army next door who had kids doing push ups to great applause), we added a question along the lines of “which pest did this poo”? The ‘poo’ was in a pot and they had to eat some to find out the answer. It was a multiple choice question; a) rat, b) possum, c) stoat, d) easter bunny. Without exception, every child reluctantly tasted a sample from the pot and then most of them, through screwed up chewing faces, looked through the list of possible answers. They really believed that we might actually feed them poo!

Caroline with a group on the Routeburn Track near a waterfall.

You need a good raincoat down here on the Routeburn Track!

The DOC employee that inspires or enthuses me most is:

Every week I am inspired by my colleagues around me. We are like family!

On a personal note

Most people don’t know that:

I once shared my bed with a feral piglet! Her name was Princess Penelope and my partner shot her mother on a bacon gathering trip! She was the most intelligent animal I’ve ever known. She toilet trained herself within 24 hours of being in the house—choosing to use the shower tray when it was too cold to go outside! One night, I woke to find she had got caught up in the duvet cover in her mad dash to get to the bathroom. She didn’t want to sleep in the bed after that!

If I could trade places with any other person for a week it would be:

Anyone on the filming set of the BBC comedy ‘Gavin and Stacey’. It’s a crackin’ programme it is and I’m a total fan. On a recent visit to see family in the UK I went on an unofficial tour with my equally obsessed sister and we actually got to see where every scene was filmed—including the dodgems—‘cause you knows how I like the bumper cars’!

Caroline with her family at Milford Sound.

Out and about in my backyard—Mitre Peak, Milford Sound

My best ever holiday was:

Define holiday! I’ve spent the last 14 years in New Zealand living on the edge of Fiordland National Park, cycling, kayaking, tramping—sounds like a perfectly good holiday to me!

In my spare time I:

Enjoy dabbling in movie making. I really should do a course so I know what I’m doing, but owning a Mac makes it SO easy. I consider myself ‘learning on the job’!

If I could be any New Zealand native species I’d be:

A Burwood takahē. I’d get to eat a tasty vegetarian diet, have a cuddly colourful partner for life, foster children in need of parents and experience what it’s like to do 7 metres of poo each day!

Caroline walking with her son in Fiordland National Park.

A walk in the park with my son—looking out along the Hollyford Valley

Deep and meaningful

My favourite quote is:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has” – Margaret Mead

In work and life I am motivated by:

TED talks. Not only are these talks filled with ideas worth spreading, they also introduce you to some exceptional people on this planet who really know how to tell a story and captivate an audience.

Caroline and her son with the 'Bugman'—Ruud Kleinpaste.

Still smiling at the end of a long day spent with kids restoring the Kepler

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

“It would be selfish to have the answer and skills to prevent the extinction of native species, but to ignore this and let them slip into extinction” – Don Merton. At the time I was struggling with the fact that children lived in poverty, and it seemed unjust and selfish that a wealthy country could afford ‘luxuries’ like protecting its wildlife. But after speaking with Don I truly understood that what we do to the environment we do to ourselves. They cannot be separated. Don’s words have stuck with me ever since.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is:

Just one cathedral in Britain alone costs 19,000 pounds a day to maintain. That’s NZ$38,000 or about NZ$30 a minute! Other countries like Britain treasure their castles, cathedrals, bridges and ancient monuments and consider this spending a vital investment. What makes New Zealand’s treasures so unique is that they are natural and LIVING—no amount of money could restore them if lost. Together we can protect these treasures, enjoy and celebrate them and be confident that they are as worthy of our attention as any Great Wall, Palace or Cathedral.

Caroline in the Murchison Mountains with Te Anau in the background.

Another day at the office! Standing in the Murchison Mountains

Question of the week

If you could only use one kitchen utensil for the rest of your life, what would it be and why that choice?

My spork—an impulse purchase standing at the till in Macpac many years ago. Well it looked so useful, who wouldn’t be tempted to buy one? Of course I’ve never actually used it, so if it was the only thing I had left, maybe I would. The spoon end could stir, the fork end would mash, and the knife… it might chop?!