Of all the mountains in the world, New Zealand’s Maungatautari is unique. At one time its forested slopes and pristine bush streams nurtured a wide variety of invertebrates and indigenous birds, many flightless, like the iconic and vulnerable kiwi bird, but today, a 47-kilometre-long fence encloses what remains of a once-wonderous living and breathing ecosystem.
Why a fence?
What’s it all about?
During a recent trip to New Zealand’s North Island, my husband and I visited the extinct volcanic mountain: Maungatautari. Located two hours southeast of Auckland or a short drive south of Cambridge, we asked our hosts at the “Out in the Styx” B&B that very question. “Why a fence around a mountain top?” Hosts Lance and Mary Hodgson provided some background.
Over time it became clear that the ravages of introduced mammals: rabbits, rats, stoats, possums, goats, deer, pig, domestic dogs, cats and even farm livestock, had threatened, to near extinction, Maungatautari’s wildlife by severely damaging its ecosystem and killing the offspring of many vulnerable species.
Dr. Tim Day, General Manager of Xcluder Pest Proof Fencing, shared this amazing story that led to the establishment of the Mangatautari Ecological Island Trust. Could a fence work wonders by protecting some 3,400 hectares of convoluted terrain?
“People were becoming increasingly disheartened with the never-ending task of trying to control or remove pest animals with traps or baits. A longer term solution was required…Originally designed for just one landowner, the Wallaces, it soon became clear there was a far-reaching desire amongst others to give effective fencing a go. It’s been fantastic, for me as an animal behaviour scientist, to see a project aimed at understanding the behaviour of pest animals turn into a practical tool that works in the real world and is making a difference. Now a few years on from those initial research beginnings, many of the more than twenty fences we’ve built are safe havens for threatened birds, plants, lizards and fish. It’s rewarding stuff!…”
No ordinary fence to install, the one around Maungatautari was a mammoth job. Covering a distance of 47 kilometres, the fence crossed 42 waterways, used 50,000 batons, 8,500 posts, 240 km of wire and 100,000 square metres of stainless steel mesh. Not one gap in it is larger than 6 mm for anything larger would allow juvenile mice to get through. The electronic surveillance system quickly notifies staff if there are any problems like a tree falling on the fence, and the entire enclosure is inspected regularly by a group of trained and enthusiastic volunteers.
As Dr. Day said, “The Maungatautari Ecological Island is by far the largest and most ambitious of pest-proof fenced sanctuaries around the country and one can’t help but admire the tireless efforts of the countless volunteers who make the project tick. The Xcluder Pest Proof Fencing company has given Maungatautari a tool to assist them, but it is the passion and commitment of those involved that are ensuring the biological gains!”
On the day of our visit to Maungatautari we were fortunate to meet docent, Marilyn Mackinder. My husband entered the Reserve though a security gate and walked up the well-maintained path to the join other visitors at an aviary. As I rode with Marilyn on her ATV alongside this impressive fence, she pointed out unique design elements that would deter small mammals.
“We’re very much aware of the damage that could be done if one small mouse gained entry or was dropped into the Reserve from, say, the talons of an owl. Fortunately though, over the past several months we’ve not spotted signs of a single mouse.”
At the large aviary, we were introduced to her special charges on loan from the Auckland Zoo: a breeding pair of endangered kaka (kakapo parrots). Occasionally their two fledglings would flop about in valiant attempts to strengthen their wings. Soon they’d be strong enough to fly in freedom throughout the forest with their older siblings.
Upon hearing Marilyn’s approach, the extended family of kaka birds began to make their presence known by chattering in a typical parrot-like manner. As they flew closer, four beautiful kakas peeked at us through the trees. Advancing cautiously, they waited for Marilyn to place a few peanut treats and a bit of watered-down honey in the feeding station — a grand opportunity for us to observe their behaviour before they flew off again into the forest.
To enjoy the Reserve from a bird’s perspective, we climbed the nearby 16-metre-high viewing tower. Within seconds we’re treated to the bell-like tone of a bird’s song. Through filtered sunlight we caught a glimpse of a small bird, a bellbird’s fledgling, wobbling uncertainly on a branch while being fed a berry from a native bush. Too soon, a breeze through the canopy hides this intimate experience.
Restoration, maintenance and re-introduction of threatened species like the kiwi bird and many others is well underway. Important too, is the opportunity to provide a meaningful educational facility for school groups, visitors and researchers.
Just over ten years ago a grassroots impetus began with individual contributions and committed volunteers. Then, with international Corporations, Trusts and several New Zealand government departments actively supporting the Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust, their conservation objectives began to flourish.
As visitors we wondered how to contribute to this special endeavour. All our questions were answered on the Trust’s website: www.maungatrust.org. As their motto states: SHARE THE DREAM. We did!
N.B.–The Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust is registered as a Charitable Organization in the U.S.A. under Section 501(c)(3).
Our thanks to Dr. Tim Day, John Scott, Marilyn Mackinder, our hosts at the “Out in the Styx” B&B, and to Mark and Gaylene Eyre: view “Golfing with a Waikato Girl” on my Blog for more information on Maungatautari and other treasures in the Waikato area.
Photo credit: Maungatautari in morning mist by Liz Clark.