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The Endangered Species Foundation (ESF) talks saving New Zealand’s ten most endangered creatures

The Maui dolphin

The Endangered Species Foundation (ESF) started in March 2013 and set out to sustainably fund conservation action to prevent the extinction of any New Zealand native species. Since then, it has been actively working to raise public awareness of New Zealand’s most endangered species and develop innovative new ways of keeping animals alive – like 3D printing eggs, and having them painted by Weta Digital. Founder Dr Mike Thorsen talks about its efforts to keep New Zealand’s most endangered species alive.

Like many conservation-based organisations, a huge challenge for the ESF is finding enough financial support. Further, The foundation plans to raise some $30 million raised through donations and sponsorship over the next five years, which will fund the protection of New Zealand’s ten most endangered species.   

The list is compiled alongside DOC and contains a mixture of marine based species such as the Maui dolphin, to land dwelling organisms such as the Mokohinau stag beetle. The list can be found here and has been chosen based on four key factors: number of individuals remaining, success of conservation programme to date, access to sufficient resources and tools, and degree of conflict between resource users in the area. The ESF has further identified 49 species and one habitat type at the brink of extinction.  
Thorsen says, “There are thousands more endangered species in Aotearoa, but these are the ones we’ve identified as being closest to extinction. We work with other conservation organisations including the Department of Conservation, Landcare Research, NIWA, universities, regional and city councils, NGOs, Iwi and community groups to facilitate action to protect these species.”

Thorsen points to it’s support for the Maui dolphins as an example of what the ESF does to support New Zealand endangered species.

“Our work with Maui dolphin involves holding discussions with a range of interested groups to get a broader and deeper understanding of the issues around Maui dolphin protection, and particularly, where funding is needed and where we could help facilitate protection.

“ESF is a Member of the Hector and Maui Dolphin Advisory Forum which is currently reviewing the NZ Dolphin Threat Management Plan. We are also involved in the Maui Research Advisory Group and have raised $17,000 for Maui protection, and a major fundraising campaign for the Maui dolphin is to be planned.”

The ESF have also reached out to government and non-government organisations who Thorsen says are ‘very supportive’ of it’s approach – and that it  is widely accepted that more money is needed for species protection, especially sustainable funding. And while the organisation stands as ‘apolitical’ - it presented an interesting argument on Labours ‘Predator Free 2050’  policy to the New Zealand Herald earlier this year. Some analysis stated that while pest control would help a lot,  it leaves out precious marine taonga such as Maui dolphin, Antipodean albatross and New Zealand sea lion. Additionally, it argued that weed invasion and habitat destruction were the most crucial issues facing conservation.

There is also plenty of new tech being deployed as ESF find new ways to keep our native animals alive. One being, it’s development of 3D-printed New Zealand fairy tern eggs.

Thorsen says, “The project involves WWF-NZ, the International Centre for Birds of Prey, UK, Exeter University, UK, and Auckland University. Life-like dummy eggs are needed to replace fairy tern eggs removed for incubation. The dummies must be life-like so that the parents remain on the nest to care for the chicks that are returned. This intervention reduces the risk of loss of viable eggs to predation or storm events.”

DOC trialled their use last summer with great success. So much so, that the same production techniques will be employed for creating kakapo dummy eggs. Previously hand-painted, Weta Digital painted the last batch of dummy eggs.”

Asked what it’s projections are for the next ten years, Thorsen says, “The next ten years will be critical for the protection of Maui dolphin and our other Priority Projects.  We will be directing funding to those 50 projects, growing our endowment fund, and doing all we can to facilitate conservation action.”

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