Kea curiosity can be fatal. The Kea Conservation Trust is urging people carrying out ground-based predator control in kea habitat to take extra precautions to avoid injury or death to kea. Together with kea specialists and predator control advisors, the group has put together a Best Practice Guide aimed at reducing injury or death to kea by identifying which devices are safe to use in kea habitat and how devices can be adapted to make them safer.
“Predator control is hugely beneficial to kea,” says Kea Conservation Trust chairperson, Tamsin Orr-Walker. “Nesting success can be less than 5% without predator control in a stoat plague year, compared to 75% with predator control. It’s not about stopping trapping – just making it safe.”
Intelligent and innovative, kea are continually finding new ways to get themselves into trouble and the Best Practice Guide will be regularly updated as more information becomes available. To that end, Tamsin urges anyone who finds a dead or injured kea to report it.
“People may be concerned about reporting a dead kea in their trap,” says Tamsin, “We want to make people really aware of how important it is to report it, to increase our knowledge of the dangers kea face and ultimately increase kea safety.”
A kea has, for example, been photographed investigating an A24 self-resetting trap – with its head inside the device.
“So far there is no evidence of a kea being killed by a self-resetting trap,” says Tamsin, “But please use weka excluders with the traps in kea habitat and position A12 and A24 traps so that kea can’t get leverage for access.”
Another key thing to remember is kea aren’t just found above the treeline.
“They’re not just in the mountains. They fly great distances and they’re associated with forest as well.”
So what is the scale of the problem?
Well, Tamsin was recently contacted for advice from a DOC predator control worker who was having issues with kea setting off traps in the Murchison Mountains. The birds were poking the trap mechanism with sticks. Behavioural scientists would no doubt be interested in the keas’ use of simple tools. The trapper was less impressed.
Tamsin asked how many traps were set off.
“200 so far,” was the trapper’s reply, “and that’s just over the last few days!”
One can understand the trapper’s frustration. A solution Tamsin recommends is to modify the trap box grid so that sticks can’t go through. Some traps have been constructed with baffles inside as well.
Another predator control operator Tamsin knows of was stapling feratox bags and noticed a kea watching. When he came back, the bags were slit and the cyanide-based toxin was spilled on the ground.
“It may be that kea are being killed and the bodies are being scavenged. Dead kea may not be found,” she says, “but if you see kea watching you, discontinue what you’re doing if it’s accessible to kea.”
Other solutions can be as simple as using extra-long screws to fix trap boxes and a metal plate to stop kea ripping apart the wood.
According to the Best Practice Guide, at least 11 kea are known to have been killed by DOC 150/200 traps.
“Kea are able to access the traps by removing screws/nails holding down the lid. They are also known to interfere with the trap (rolling over, setting off the trap by poking sticks through front opening) and pulling off front mesh. There is potential for heavy metal poisoning from ingesting treated timber (data deficient).”
Recommended safety measures are:
“Secure lid with 65mm galvanised/st/steel screws (not nails or short screws). Place metal brackets around fasteners to prevent kea tearing wood away from around it (and ingesting toxic treated timber). Place solid stainless steel grills on the ends of trap boxes and use side entrances. Stake the trap boxes with 10mm re-bar.”
Victor leg-hold traps have a trigger weight of 500g. Kea weigh 750-1100g and injuries and deaths have been recorded. It is recommended that the trigger weight be increased to >1300g in kea habitat (forest and alpine) and that other methods (eg wax tags) are used for possum monitoring.
The report recommends that Warrior traps are not used in kea habitat (deaths have been recorded) and that Sentinel traps are only used if absolutely necessary to protect another threatened species. Kea deaths have also been recorded in Timms traps which are easily accessible and attractive to kea and should not be used unless absolutely necessary for another threatened species. Feratox and cyanide paste should only be used in kea-proof bait stations and bait bags should not be stapled to trees in kea habitat.
Trapinator possum kill traps have also been added to the list of devices which shouldn’t be used in kea habitat after a kea was found hanging in a Trapinator in January 2018.
Kea beak marks have been found in Kiwicare gel bait stations.
The report ends by encouraging the development of new kea-safe predator control devices and reiterates the importance of reporting instances where kea are known to have been injured or killed.
“To ensure pest control methods used in kea habitat are of minimal risk to kea, it is important that any injury to, or death of kea, are recorded. This will ensure that information that may save kea lives can be added to this document as it becomes available. It is acknowledged there may be a reluctance by individuals and groups to come forward to report kea injury or deaths as part of their trapping efforts. As such it is vital to encourage and support reporting and to follow up with provision of support and advice to reduce any further risks to kea.”
Tamsin is also keen for community groups and others to share good ideas for ways to make predator control safer for our much-loved kea. So if your group has any tips, tricks or trap modifications you’d like to pass on, please get in touch.