Can we fix it? Predators be gone: Meet the New Zealand companies getting rid of pests

Can we fix it? Predators be gone: Meet the New Zealand companies getting rid of pests

In a regular section called Can We Fix It? Idealog and Kiwibank will explore some of the world’s biggest – and, in some cases, most intractable – problems and then showcase some of the clever people trying to tackle them. Here's how several innovative New Zealand companies, such as Cacophony Project and Squawk Squad, are trying to get rid of pests.

Get rid of rats, stoats and possums in New Zealand and we’ll get kiwi roaming in our backyards. at is the Predator Free 2050 mission, according to programme manager Brent Beavens.

“We’ve clearly identified over the years these ones are having the biggest impact on our biodiversity and we’ve done a lot
of control, we’re now at the point where we know total removal will enhance our bird life, bats and lizards and everything else associated, and prevent extinction.”

Predator Free 2050, announced in 2016, is the ambitious project to rid New Zealand 40 of predators in the next 32 years. Without ghting for that goal, we risk further extinctions and the overall reduction in global biodiversity.

“You don’t know what you’re losing, you can lose your national identity but it might also be the next cure for cancer sitting in one of these species,” Beavens says.

The project is built to New Zealand’s island eradication work and community conservation initiatives of the 1990s, which saw a number of predator fenced areas popping up across the country. The team behind Predator Free 2050 are tasked with coordinating e orts nationally in a cohesive way and breaking new ground as predator removal e orts move into cities and farmland.

As well as the health and social benefits people get from being in green spaces around native species, the team is expecting economic benefis by reducing the effects of possums and rats on the agricultural sector, Beavens says.

“The general thing in New Zealand is what makes us special is our culture, our native species and our landscapes, so if we want to retain that we have to be quite active in that space.”

Beavens says the benefit of setting such a clear goal has been that people have really got behind it, and there has been a growing alignment in effort and research.

You don’t know what you’re losing, you can lose your national identity but it might also be the next cure for cancer sitting in one of these species.

– Brent Beavens

“We’re so close to the technology around achieving eradication that we can push to completely remove these animals and not have the ongoing investment.”

The team is working on breakthrough technology and science, including long life lures, and new toxins that target specific animals such as rats, feral cats and stoats, and it runs a programme looking at technologies and practices they can accelerate out. ZIP (Zero Invasive Predators) is developing an eradication technique using 1080 called 1080 to zero using natural boundaries of rivers and mountain tops to defend the treated area.

Other projects independent of Predator Free 2050 but with symbiotic goals are making headwind using technology and social networking, including Squawk Squad and the Cacophony Project. The Cacophony Project, a mix of technical innovation and conservation, was founded by inventor/ entrepreneur Grant Ryan. Initially a project to record birdsong and create an audio database to estimate population, it is now using AI, luring predators with light and sound, observing habitats with thermal cameras, identifying threats with machine learning and eliminating them. Ryan says the method could increase trapping efficiency by 80,000 times.

“Moore’s law means any solution will get twice as good or half the price every couple of years, so we’ll be predator free way before 2050. It is a way for the New Zealand tech community to solve one of the country’s biggest issues.”

The project is currently working on a new sound lure, improving the camera and finding an automated way to eliminate predators – most likely a paint ball gun with poison as the animals are all groomers. Ryan says the project is entirely privately funded, open source non-profit, as this is a bit too wacky for any current government programmes.

This is a bit too wacky for any current government programmes.

– Grant Ryan

Beavens says although everything needs some level of control and consideration, he has no qualms with the research into toxins or gene editing science like Crispr, but he doubts New Zealand would rush into any new tool. What excites him the most is developing barriers to movement, he says.

The most important thing for Predator Free 2050 is strategising and balancing investments, while making sure community empowerment remains core, Beavens says. DoC rangers are offering community training programmes to create predator elimination plans, which he says have been very popular.

“That’s where people want to work, in their own backyard.”

Idealog has been covering the most interesting people, businesses and issues from the fields of innovation, design, technology and urban development for over 12 years. And we're asking for your support so we can keep telling those stories, inspire more entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and keep pushing New Zealand forward. Give over $5 a month and you will not only be supporting New Zealand innovation, but you’ll also receive a print subscription and a copy of the new book by David Downs and Dr. Michelle Dickinson, No. 8 Recharged (while stocks last).