In New Zealand, exotic predators, weeds and habitat loss have historically been the main causes of extinction – often in combination with factors including disease, hunting, and over-collecting for museums and personal collections. Early on, both Maori and European settlers took steps to control hunting and habitat destruction, but could do little to control the threat posed by the rats, pigs, stoats, deer and rabbits they had brought with them.
Evolving in the absence of mammalian predators, many of our native species simply could not adapt quickly enough to the threat and increased competition created by introduced animals and plants. It is this threat which remains the major challenge of conservation efforts today.
The case for conservation
Early conservation efforts in New Zealand involved the creation of legal reserves, some of which were sanctuary islands free from exotic predators where species could be moved to. By working towards controlling the numbers of exotic species, and providing additional help to the species close to becoming extinct, dedicated conservation programmes such as those started for kakapo, black robin, saddleback, kiwi and the kokako have proved extremely successful.
Today, New Zealand is viewed as a world leader in the conservation of endangered species. Many techniques (such as translocations and eradication of pests from islands) were first used in New Zealand, and we continue to be at the forefront of new advances. In fact, our track record is such that no species under a conservation programme New Zealand has become extinct (and very few worldwide).
Despite the success of these programmes, the Department of Conservation is only able to actively manage 25% of species that are at a high-risk. Other organisations protect some of the remainder, but the majority of endangered species are not part of any formal conservation programme.
An effective conservation programme requires research-based insight on the factors causing the decline, it must have the tools to be able to fight those factors, and it must have access to the resources needed to implement these tools. The Endangered Species Foundation aims to work at the frontline, supporting research and the creation of these tools, to ensure targeted intervention gets to those who need it most.