Million Dollar Mouse monitoring phase begins

The result of one of the most complex island mouse eradication projects ever undertaken will be known in a few short weeks.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage is accompanying a Department of Conservation-led Million Dollar Mouse monitoring team heading to Antipodes Island group in the New Zealand subantarctic. The monitoring team will begin the month-long assessment to determine whether the project was a success.

Ms Sage said it was an exciting, albeit nerve-wrecking time, for everyone involved.

“The Million Dollar Mouse eradication programme was delivered in winter 2016. Now, 18 months and almost two mice breeding seasons later, DOC will be able to determine if it was a success.

“As with any island eradication, success is never guaranteed. The Antipodes operation was delivered to international best practice, however, the sheer challenge of eradicating 200,000 mice from such a remote and wild part of New Zealand should never be underestimated.”

The Antipodes Island group is located about 760 km south east of New Zealand. The 2,100 hectare islands are protected as a Nature Reserve and are recognised internationally as a World Heritage site for their outstanding natural values.

“These islands have incredible bird and plant life – they’re home to 21 species of breeding seabirds and four unique ground bird species, as well as many native and endemic species of insects and plants. Mice can be voracious predators, so they needed to go in order to preserve the islands as a key site for biodiversity.”

Mice were first reported on Antipodes Island in 1907, either arriving by shipwreck or with early sealers. Since then, they have had major impacts on a once pristine ecosystem that had not evolved to cope with mammalian predators.

DOC, in partnership with the Morgan Foundation, WWF-New Zealand, Island Conservation and with support from donors to the ‘Million Dollar Mouse’ campaign, set out to remove the invasive predators.

Now, it is time to review the results.

“If any mice had survived the operation, the population would have rebounded by now to a level where they should be detectable,” Ms Sage said.

Even so, the 10-person team will take a full three weeks to search the island before the final results will be known. Two rodent-detection dogs from the Kiwibank Conservation Dogs’ Programme will help with the task.

If successful, this will be the largest eradication where mice are the sole mammalian pest species. This would leave Auckland Island as the only place, out of New Zealand’s five subantarctic island groups, with a population of introduced mammalian predators – mice, cats and pigs.

“It’s an exciting time for island conservation and pest eradication. The international community will be watching closely.”

The Million Dollar Mouse monitoring team left yesterday evening aboard the HMNZS Wellington, courtesy of the New Zealand Defence Force.

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