The birds on Tiritiri Matangi Island haven’t seen a rat in 15 years.
Despite the thousands of visitors who arrive on hundreds of ferry trips and uncounted private boats each year – each one a potential rat-carrier – not one rodent has made it to shore since 1993.
The result is a thriving bird paradise where takahe, kokako, penguins and kiwi live much as they did thousands of years ago – with the exception that they are now visited by 32,000 humans a year.
It’s a remarkable turnaround for what was once a rat-infested island just north of Auckland – transformed by volunteers from barren farmland to dense native bush over 10 years.
The Department of Conservation (DoC) scientific reserve was a working farm until the 1970s; and before that the Kawerau-A-Maki and Ngati Paoa iwi lived there for centuries.
Volunteers began planting trees in 1984, forming the 1800-strong Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi Inc five years later when they began to run short of money.
Nowadays the group that calls itself “the supporters” is entrusted with delicate work normally reserved for experts and scientists.
DoC spokeswoman Liz Maire said the supporters had been around just one year fewer than DoC – 20 years last year.
“It’s not just doing bits and pieces anymore,” said Ms Maire. “They’re doing work that used to be done by experts, in other words scientists and DoC people.”
One volunteer, Simon Fordham, a supporter of 16 years who works as a medical supplies importer, is helping organise a transfer of native species from another island. His wife Morag, a volunteer guide on the island, works with nests of rare kokako.