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Challenging territory . . . Te Manahuna Aoraki team members check out a potential site for a high- altitude predator fence trial. PHOTO: Supplied/ Simone Cleland

by Greta Yeoman

Trapping pests, trialling high-altitude predator-proof fencing and surveying species in the Mackenzie Basin are just some of the tasks carried out by the team behind Te Manahuna Aoraki conservation project.

The biodiversity scheme is only five months into its initial three-year term, but those involved – mainly Department of Conservation staff – have already been busy laying traps across the basin and researching fencing for eventual predator-proofing work.

Tracking time . . . Te Manahuna Aoraki team member Kim Miller was involved with laying tracking tunnels on the Sealy Range in January, to see how far predators range. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Project manager Phil Tisch said two heights of fencing, one 1.1m high and the other 1.8m high, would be trialled in a yet-to-be-specified location on the Two Thumb Range.

“This is going to be a challenging piece of work.”

“Will they stand up to wind and the snowline?”

The high-altitude fencing would be put to the test as winter began, particularly as wind speeds in the area could reach up to 250kmh.

He hoped the small sections of fencing, 12m in total, would be in place within the next month.

Along with the fencing, Doc staff and a University of Otago PhD student would be researching the habits of predators in the area, to see how high further trapping would need to go and what times of year this would need to occur, Mr Tisch said.

The main pests in the Mackenzie Basin are stoats, ferrets, possums, rats and occasional wild cats.

At the helm . . . Te Manahuna Aoraki conservation project manager Phil Tisch. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Along with monitoring the habits of pests, another of the biodiversity initiative’s major projects has been the extension of trapping these animals across the Mackenzie.

The Project River Recovery trapping programme, funded by Meridian Energy and Genesis Energy, which both have hydro schemes in the area, has had its boundaries extended.

The area covered by the trapping network has grown from 26,000 hectares of land to 60,000ha.

Mr Tisch said while the work setting out new traps had mostly been undertaken by Doc staff, two Aoraki/Mt Cook Village-based conservation groups – one long-standing and another reasonably new – had also been involved.

The two groups – mostly made up of volunteers who worked as alpine guides or in other “outdoorsy” pursuits – had helped put out traps mainly around the Cass and Tasman River areas, Mr Tisch said.

About 3500 traps were laid around the Mackenzie Basin area, including 1100 along the Cass River alone, he said.

Happy hoppers . . . The robust native giant grasshopper now has a predator-proof fenced area as part of the Te Manahuna Aoraki conservation project. PHOTO: Jennifer Schori

He was “really excited” about the coming work of the project team, which had an initial timeframe of three years’ work and hoped funding would be extended.

He was also excited about the collaborative nature of the conservation work, as it was an inter-agency environmental project involving Doc, Next Foundation, high-country landowners and Arowhenua, Waihao and Moeraki runanga (iwi representatives).

“I expect that this is just going to snowball from here,” he said of the scheme’s projects.

“Everyone I speak to is pleased to see this work going on in the basin.”

Safe space . . . Mackenzie Basin-dwelling robust grasshoppers have their own predator-proof area thanks to Te Manahuna Aoraki conservation project. PHOTO: SUPPLIED/Simone Cleland