Life at the Southern Limits of New Zealand

Rakiura / Stewart Island is the southern-most inhabited point of New Zealand. Here, islanders carve out an existence for themselves among the harsh but beautiful environment. I was visiting to understand how the community feels about proposals to eradicate introduced mammalian predators from the entirety of the island – Predator Free Rakiura. The eradication of pests such as these mammals can have as many social impacts as it does environmental impacts.

The township of Oban, Rakiura / Stewart Island
The township of Oban, Rakiura / Stewart Island (Photo by James Russell)

Cats, rats and possums, and a handful of hedgehogs, are the only mammalian predators on Rakiura. The absence of mustelids such as stoats is immediately recognisable through the abundance of kaka, one of the large native parrots of New Zealand. One kaka does the rounds of my hotel room each night arriving precisely at 5pm to demand tribute.

Local kaka doing the hotel rounds (Photo by James Russell)

The eradication of the invasive mammalian predators from Rakiura is an ambitious proposal to allow the wholesale restoration of the island, protecting the species already on the island, and potentially allowing the reintroduction of others such as the kakapo, recently lost from Rakiura and now confined to the remote offshore output of Whenua Hou / Codfish Island. We have time to visit nearby Ulva Island and observe the abundance of birds present after the eradication of rats from the island.

New Zealand endemic birds of Ulva Island: kereru, toutouwai, miromiro, tui
New Zealand endemic birds of Ulva Island: kereru, toutouwai, miromiro, tui (Photos by James Russell)

My time on Rakiura does not seem long enough, the woes of Auckland’s traffic and airport are far away indeed from here as I sit in the hotel overlooking the waterfront. However, I am confident leaving the welcoming community to take forward the proposal of a Predator Free Rakiura and determining how this would work best for them.

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Meet the Author
Conservation biologist Dr. James Russell works throughout the world on remote islands and other sites to provide conservation solutions by applying a combination of scientific methods. Follow James on National Geographic voices for regular updates on his own work or other exciting developments in island conservation.