Auckland Zoo has embarked on a restoration project to make the Zoo’s grounds a haven for native wildlife.
Named Urban Ark, the key aim of this project is to reduce the impact of pest species on our native wildlife and plants, and we start right here in our 17ha of Zoo grounds, and in neighbouring properties.
New Zealand plants and animals developed alongside each other in the absence of mammals. As a result, they are unique and many are found nowhere else on Earth.
Among the threats to these native species are many introduced species. Animals like possums, rats and hedgehogs eat native eggs, chicks and birds, lizards, snails, seeds and plants. Some introduced plants, like honeysuckle and ladder fern, grow so well in New Zealand that they compete with our native plants.
We undertake intensive predator control, mostly targeted at rats, but also to control other pests and predators such as possums, stoats and hedgehogs. By doing this, native birds, reptiles and even invertebrates will be able to thrive here.
We are well on the way to reducing pests, with extensive trapping greatly reducing the number of rats, mice and hedgehogs, and are active in removing pest plants.
Apart from our zookeepers, a lot of work is done by zoo volunteers. These people help monitor for pest species, both here at the Zoo and in neighbouring properties – trapping pest animals, removing wasp nests, and weeding out pest plants. We also work with other organisations like the Department of Conservation on projects like the restoration of Rangitoto Island and the Ark in the Park project in Auckland’s Waitakere Ranges.
Ark in the Park
Ark in the Park is a joint Auckland Council and Forest & Bird initiative, which aims to create a pest-free 1600ha open sanctuary in the stunning Waitakere Ranges, to enable the re-introduction of native flora and fauna species.
There are no physical barriers between Ark in the Park and the surrounding ranges, but the continuous predator control within its boundaries creates an “island” of sanctuary compared to the unmonitored forest around. The predator control measures allow the existing flora and fauna to recover, and alongside this natural recovery, a programme of species restoration has started. Already there have been successful reintroductions of whitehead, North Island robin, and stitchbird.
The Ark in the Park programme began in 2003 and there is currently approximately 1600ha of forest where introduced mammalian predators are kept to very low levels. This is achieved by a grid of bait stations, which control rats, mice, and possums. In addition, cordons of traps kill mustelids (stoats, weasels, ferrets). The bait stations are placed 50m apart, on straight lines 100m apart. The bait is renewed three times a season, starting in late winter (to ensure low numbers of predators before the start of the bird breeding season), and finishes in mid-summer.
The Ark in the Park Buffer Zone is another 800ha of private forest land in the Waitakere Valley, where private land owners control pests. Forest & Bird and Auckland Council assist landowners with traps, bait, and technical assistance.
The Auckland Zoo Conservation Fund sponsors 30ha of predator control in Ark in the Park, and zoo staff regularly assist with checking bait stations. In addition, zookeepers have assisted with the transfer of species back to these ranges, including the North Island robin, stitchbird and the whitehead – a species that had been absent for over 120 years and radio tracking the native bird kokako. Our vet team has also played a role, carrying out disease screening on animals prior to their release.