Detector Gadget joins the conservation effort at Bluff Hill

    Bluff Hill Motupohue Environment Trust volunteer and treasurer Debbie Fife (left), Department of Conservation (Doc) senior ranger for biodiversity Ros Cole, trust board member and volunteer Estelle Leask, trust volunteer Anne McDermott and Doc rodent detection programme dog handler Sandy King with her rodent-detecting dog Gadget.

    VOLUNTEERS in the war against environmental pests on Bluff Hill have a new ally.

    Gadget, a trained rodent-detecting dog with the Department of Conservation’s (Doc) Conservation Dogs programme, met Bluff Hill Motupohue Environment Trust volunteers at
    the Glory Track car park on Gunpit Rd last Thursday morning to join them for a rat hunt.

    Environment trust treasurer and volunteer Debbie Fife said rats were the group’s biggest problem.

    The trust, which co-ordinates 20 volunteers who regularly check and rebait about 450 rat traps and about 275 possum traps on Bluff Hill (as well as 108 mustelid traps for ferrets, stoats and weasels, in the Bluff Hill vicinity), has almost 20 trapping lines running off the hill’s three trails.

    Trust board member and volunteer Estelle Leask said deploying a rodent-detecting dog would enable the group to locate pockets of rodents away from the trapping lines.

    Gadget, a four-year-old Jack Russell-fox terrier cross, is the first rodent-detecting dog to be deployed on Bluff Hill as part of Doc’s rodent detection programme.

    Doc senior ranger for biodiversity Ros Cole said this would give the group extra confidence that the 0% Residual Trap Catch rate it had achieved [since beginning in 2008 with a 35% catch rate] was accurate.

    The catch rate was calculated biannually by Environment Southland, which assessed trap data collected by trust volunteer Anne McDermott.

    Mrs McDermott said the 0% catch rate, which did not indicate a complete absence of predators but meant predator numbers were low enough not to adversely affect native wildlife, had allowed the group to relocate 41 South Island robins from Piano Flat to Bluff
    Hill in March.

    Gadget’s handler, Doc rodent detection programme officer Sandy King, who was working to block predators from crossing to islands in Foveaux Strait, said working with conservationists on the mainland to keep “both ends” predator free would be more effective. Gadget located a rats’ nest under a log on Bluff Hill, which the rats had cached with miro berries to feed on through winter, Mrs Leask said.

    A trap would now be placed at the location.

    Gadget also indicated three bait stations on the hill had been visited by rats.

    “It was really worthwhile [having Gadget along], we learned a lot.”

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