“We want locals to wake up to a dawn chorus of native birds; to see kea and rock wren regularly when you go into our mountains and kaka in our forests; for nature to return to our region.” That’s Paul Kavanagh’s vision for the future of Queenstown Lakes.

Paul Kavanagh is the Project Director of Southern Lakes Sanctuary, a group officially established in 2021. For years, local conservation groups, landowners and businesses have long recognised the need for a cohesive effort to protect and restore the declining biodiversity of the Southern Lakes region.

In 2020, the Jobs for Nature program administered by DOC and championed by AJ Hackett Bungy, provided the funding for a consortium to link these groups together and formed the Southern Lakes Sanctuary (SLS).

Coordinating collective impact

Southern Lakes Sanctuary now manages over 80 community trapping groups and employs a team of people to help coordinate the removal of predators and promote biodiversity across an area of over 660,000ha.

They're “a powerful and inspiring insight into what is possible when conservation mahi (work) is funded and when groups are supported to collaborate,” says Paul. “We are only at the start of our journey but already we are developing some very ambitious plans for returning some of our native species that have been lost in our district.”

SLS oversees seven core hubs in the catchments of the Makarora, Matukituki, Motatapu, Cardrona and the Dart-Rees-Greenstone rivers, and the basins surrounding Queenstown-Arrowtown and Wānaka-Hāwea.

Map of the Southern Lakes Sanctuary's Project AreaSouthern Lakes Sanctuary's project area

Exceptional biodiversity in our backyard

Bob’s Cove is one of SLS's focus areas. Just 15 minutes from Queenstown, it has the highest biodiversity in the Whakatipu outside of national parks. It’s one of the best-preserved examples of lake-to-alpine ecosystems with intact old-growth beech forest and many rare plant species.

Next time you’re there, keep an eye out for native bird species such as kakariki, kererū, falcon, piwakawaka and tomtits, as well as lizard species.

Like many areas in the SLS catchment, introduced pests like possums, feral cats, stoats, and rodents threaten the biodiversity of Bob’s Cove. These predators kill native birds, destroy habitats, compete with their food sources, and spread disease.

Southern Lakes Sanctuary works together with the Whakatipu Wildlife Trust to trap and manage these predators so Bob’s Cove can continue to thrive as a biodiversity hotspot for years to come.

Three people enjoying sweeping mountain and lake views on the Bob's Cove look out pointBob's Cove, a biodiversity hotspot

The game-changing technology revolutionising trapping

A short walk through native bush close to Bob’s Cove soon reveals that a trap has been sprung, very effectively it seems – a job well done by a newly installed ‘NZ AutoTraps AT220’ trap.

SLS’s Whakatipu Hub Coordinator, Bonnie Wilkins helps implement these new, innovative traps designed to catch possums and rodents. She says they are changing the game in working towards New Zealand’s goal of becoming Predator Free by 2050.

A camera in the sophisticated AT220 trap allows it to sense what type of creature is checking it out and knows how much force should be deployed to kill it. When the trap strikes, the deceased animal falls away and the trap resets and rebaits automatically.

These traps don’t require regular checking and resetting (like the wooden DOC 150 traps do) and can continue to work to eliminate predators for up to six months. This reduces the volunteer hours needed to check and reset traps, making it more efficient in reducing predator numbers.

SLS can remotely monitor these new high-tech traps to see battery levels, bait levels and trapping information from their office.  AI technology is currently being used to teach the trap to only activate for target species, making it safer for native birds.

Southern Lakes Sanctuary TrappingHigh-tech AT220 traps

Positive signs of predator-free

The team at SLS are continually monitoring predator populations in the region. To gauge possum populations, wax tags are set out before new trapping begins. A small blob of wax is baited with attractive flour and cinnamon scents - visiting possums can’t resist taking a nibble.

After a week, it is possible to determine if any, or how many, possums are frequenting the area. This is redone regularly to assess what impact has been made on the possum population. The new trapping technology used at Bob’s Cove has been so effective, recent wax tag testing is showing minimal possum nibbles.

While the positive impact of the AT220 traps is clear, with a retail price of up to $700, they’re a pricey investment. Innovation is still required to ensure the AT220 traps are ‘kea-proof’ so they can be used in high-alpine environments.

The benefits of trapping are evident in areas like the Greenstone Valley with the planned introduction of takahē. This work is led by DOC with support from Routeburn Dart Wildlife Trust and SLS. If the release is successful and funding for the SLS group is secured for the future, takahē will be released into the neighbouring Rees Valley in future.

South Island KākāSouth Island Kākā

How you can help SLS continue this important work

Paul explains that raising the profile of SLS and its partner groups is a priority right now. “Biodiversity is in crisis and biodiversity loss is interlinked to climate change. We need urgent support. Projects like ours need to continue or our gains will be lost, and our native wildlife will be severely impacted. We are looking for supporters to help us to continue our journey.”

With government funding only secured until June 2024, SLS needs donations to continue its work in the region. You can donate directly to Southern Lakes Sanctuary here.

Easy ways you can help protect this place

It’s as simple as, “Getting out in nature, familiarising yourself with our native species and their calls, to help us to protect them,” says Paul. Try a 5 Minute Bird Count in your local area or keep an eye out for one of the Whakatipu Wildlife Trust’s ‘beginner birding courses’.

If you too have a passion for protecting this place, consider supporting Love Queenstown – a giving platform supporting local climate, conservation and biodiversity projects making an impact. Learn more here