IWD2022: protecting Mahakirau with Sara Smerdon

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  7. IWD2022: protecting Mahakirau with Sara Smerdon

Every day, conservation volunteers like Sara Smerdon work towards getting their patch predator free. But unlike most, Sara lives in the very forest she protects. This International Women’s Day we chatted with Sara who (along with her husband) is one of 24 landowners of The Mahakirau Forest Estate in the Coromandel – a native forest subdivision filled with rare species and protected forever by a special covenant.

Sara on a boulder in a forest.
Sara Smerdon in her paradise. Image credit: Jo Smerdon

A ‘Jane’ of all trades

As a Volunteer Community Advocate for Mahakirau, Sara Smerdon wears many hats – predator control pro, biodiversity advocate and project administrator, to name a few. 

A woman handling a device to stage a frog.
An Archey’s frog being staged at the Zoo. Image credit: Sara Smerdon

Speaking on her day-to-day duties, Sara explains, “Dry days are field days. Currently, I service over 2,500 pest control devices on a monthly cycle. In less than a decade I’ve clocked up well over half a million trap checks and removed 25 ferrets, 100 feral cats, over 1,500 stoats and 6,000+ rats.

“Wet days are office days. Where I work through a never-ending list of tasks that are just as important in keeping conservation projects up and running.

“And by night, I love to explore and document the marvels abound in our beautiful patch, most animated after dark.”

To put it simply, Sara says, “I spend every waking hour nurturing the extraordinary piece of paradise I am so fortunate to call home.” 

And why wouldn’t she? Sara has the ultimate motivation.

“When you discover rare and highly endangered species living on your doorstep but also see the signs of a habitat suffering it seems only natural that you’d want to play your part in restoring the balance!”

“The inspiration is out there in our big backyard,” Sara says.

Protecting a prehistoric frog

A small frog on a gloved finger.
Archey’s frog. Image credit: Sara Smerdon

Mahakirau is a haven for rare bugs, geckos and frogs. But it’s the Archey’s frog that has Sara’s heart.

“The Archey’s frogs have lived in Mahakirau since before the dinosaurs, yet they now have the precarious title of being the most Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered Amphibian.

“I feel it is my duty to ensure I do everything in my power to ensure that they not only survive beyond the edge of existence but flourish under my watch,” she says.

Becoming a kiwi

Now a self-described “proud Kiwi”, Sara hasn’t always called New Zealand home. Originally from southern Australia, Sara was living in Belgium when “a less pressure-cooked lifestyle closer to nature was calling”.

Sara explains, “My Dutch husband and I scanned the world for options and Aotearoa came up trumps! It certainly wasn’t easy, but we managed to buy into the New Zealand dream in 2009. 

“We had pinned the Coromandel Peninsula before having even set foot in the country. And when we discovered Mahakirau Forest Estate, up on the Coromandel Ranges in the native forest? It seemed too good to be true,” Sara says.

On her experience getting involved in our country’s predator free movement, Sara says “New Zealand is a village; if you are passionate, the conservation community will notice and guide you. You just need to take the first step. Trust the rest will flow.”