by James Frankham; Editor New
Out of the question maybe,
but how far out of the question?
In November 1861, just over 150 years ago,
a small committee was brought to order in Auckland. expressly devoted to
“the introduction, acclimatisation and domestication of all innocuous
(sic) animals, birds, fishes, insects, and vegetables whether useful or
So began the official corruption of the
New Zealand ecosystem. But in truth, the informal introductions had
begun much earlier. Maori brought a menagerie aboard waka, and Europeans
had been introducing pests, game animals and stock for a century – not
all of them “innocuous”.
Now, the litany of species that have no good place here could hardly be
printed in the pages of this magazine. We’ve come a long way, but it may
be time we thought about finding our way back.
Last month, 19 conservationists from DOC,
Forest & Bird, Landcare Research, the Animal Health Board and a number
of academic institutions took leave of their jobs and travelled to a
small lodge on the Central Plateau. There, beneath the looming presence
of Ruapehu, they embarked on a two-day thought experiment behind closed
doors to consider an idea so original that all were asked at the outset
of the meeting to " suspend their disbelief.”
They concentrated their cumulative
expertise on a single notion, the idea of a predator-free New Zealand.
“The paradigm for every ecologist in New
Zealand has always been to do nothing, to control in perpetuity, or to
eradicate,” says Nicola Toki of Forest & Bird. “But to do nothing has
never been an option. And eradication has always been considered out of
the question. But how far out of the question.”?
To entertain the idea of New Zealand
without the most harmful predators — rodents, mustelids and possums, was
barely plausible, and the group scarcely considered how to fund the
enterprise. But they did find fewer obstacles than they had expected: it
would be technically possible, the experts concluded, using existing
techniques and existing technology, to rid the mainland of the vermin
that have, acre by acre, eroded the fauna and flora of Aotearoa.
It would take a lifetime, but then, maybe
only one lifetime.
There were no minutes, there was no
outcome, but after two days they had mapped out a pathway and a
destination, a way to unwind centuries of misunderstanding, a route back
to a more primal ecology
Wrongs can be righted, and the native
species with which we adorn our T-shirts and fridge magnets may one day
populate our forests and backyards, just as they now inhabit offshore
island sanctuaries. lf the motifs of popular culture are anything to go
by we care deeply about these things. The question is, do we care