Wellington Scoop

A weasel in Zealandia? Search and destroy plan begins

News from Zealandia
Mustelid tracks, likely from a weasel, have been found inside the fence at Wellington’s ecosanctuary Zealandia, triggering an immediate hunt for the unwelcome predator.

Conservation and Research Manager Dr Danielle Shanahan said that while incursions are very rare, Zealandia is well-prepared to deal with the situation and is working with experts to plan and carry out an eradication programme.

The footprints were discovered on 1 October, during a routine annual pest audit in a tracking tunnel. This has prompted an immediate incursion response by staff, supported by expertise and resources from organisations including the Department of Conservation, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and Predator Free Wellington.

“Our first priority has been to get a full and detailed understanding of the situation,” she said. “We have spent the last day carrying out a thorough assessment of the fence to ensure there are no breaches, and put out camera traps to see if we can gain any more knowledge on the animal.”

The discovery was made at the southern tip of the valley, and a team of staff and volunteers are now laying traps and tracking tunnels across the sanctuary to catch the intruder.

Shanahan said that while it was too soon to be certain how the mustelid had gained entry, it was likely to be a recent arrival.

“A Department of Conservation mustelid-detection dog swept the valley in late June, and found nothing.”

The operation will continue until the animal is found and staff are confident that the sanctuary is clear of introduced predators.

The incursion reinforced the importance of constant vigilance at the fenced sanctuary, including regular pest audits and careful biosecurity protocols.

“Even one introduced predator is one too many”, said Shanahan. “A single stoat, weasel, rat or possum could cause significant harm to our birds, lizards and invertebrates. Zealandia is home to many important populations of some of New Zealand’s most threatened species, and we must give them the utmost protection.”

Zealandia is a groundbreaking 225 hectare ecosanctuary in urban Wellington. Since it was fenced in 1999 and introduced predators were eradicated, it has reintroduced 20 species of native wildlife back into the area, including six extinct on mainland New Zealand for over a century.


  1. Bob Ferry, 2. October 2018, 12:20

    How much is this going to cost? Sounds like Zealandia is warning ratepayers of an imminent request for money? The weasels will be back in Courtenay Place before you know it! Kiwi in care need greater attention (nine dead in H.Bay for example).

  2. Sekhmet Bast Ra, 2. October 2018, 12:42

    Department of Conservation’s ‘NZ Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan’ defines anyone unfortunate enough to be a non-indigenous life form as an ‘invasive alien species’. When we read that definition, the aliens of the ‘Alien’ movie franchise came to mind. Yet in this case we’re not talking about space critters which pop out of large eggs and jump up and attach themselves to astronauts’ faces; no sir, in this case it’s just one small furry mammal. But within the sanctuary itself? From the conservationist’s perspective, that must seem a disaster of jurassic proportions. Cue the music from the shower scene in Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ and imagine the chaos as the staff and volunteers at Zealandia run around in circles trying to apprehend the offender and sentence it to the swift death it surely deserves. As my late grandmother would say ‘they’ll be having kittens up there over this event’. But seriously, if mustelids can penetrate the sanctuary’s allegedly predator proof fence, this does not bode well for the pipe dream of ‘predator free’ Wellington.

  3. Fred Kieck, 2. October 2018, 13:33

    Uhm, Weasels actually have paws and no feet. So footprints are absolutely out of the question.

  4. Bob Ferry, 2. October 2018, 14:08

    Yes Sekmet – where is Jurassic Park when you need it! I see Captain Cook is getting taken down in Gisborne and put in a shed! I wonder what Sam Neil would think, given his excellent TV show of Cook from both sides of the beach. NZ is in danger of becoming rather Nelson like in its view – very one eyed!

  5. Andy Foster, 2. October 2018, 14:37

    There have been incursions on a couple of previous occasions, but in both instances that has been because of trees falling on the fence during storms. Dangerous trees around the outside of the fence have been removed over time.
    In both occasions the Sanctuary’s response was effective and the predators – in both cases weasels from memory – were quickly caught. We are good at this stuff in New Zealand – because we have to be to protect native species from being killed and eaten.
    When guiding in the valley we will regularly talk about the back up processes should something get in. Every winter there is a mouse knock down, and then a subsequent pest audit. Lots of volunteer involvement in that as well as Zealandia staff.

  6. Bob Ferry, 2. October 2018, 15:11

    @Andy “caught” and I presume “killed” as I doubt there was any sort of “court case” for the trespassing weasel. Hopefully it was executed humanely.

  7. Andy Foster, 2. October 2018, 16:43

    The aim of trapping is always for a humane kill Bob. Probably quicker and cleaner than it would be for a bird should the weasel get it.

  8. Bob Ferry, 2. October 2018, 17:50

    The bird and weasel can only hope Andy. Some of the gin traps still being used can hold a mammal for a week in agony before it dies of starvation or blood loss.

  9. Andy Mellon, 2. October 2018, 20:05

    Well said, Andy Foster – it’s great that you’re willing to put up the alternative view and also discuss these issues with people who don’t necessarily agree with your point of view.

    Zealandia is a wonderful facility which brings visitors to Wellington and provides a great opportunity for the University to conduct research. In my experience, the volunteers and staff there do everything in their power to look after the facility in the most ethical way possible.

    Really, talk of gin traps or rights for the weasel in this case is about the most blatant example of whataboutery I can think of.

  10. Andy Foster, 2. October 2018, 21:00

    Hi Bob – As best I understand it, the traditional nasty gin trap with teeth which were quite inhumane have been banned for a decade or so, as have larger soft jaw leghold traps – because of their size they might trap an animal by its body rather than its leg. I think there are some more recent regulatory improvements too. So there are smaller leghold traps in use (without the nasty teeth), and they can’t be used within 150 metres of housing unless the occupier is ok with that, and must be checked daily. Somebody may be able to provide more information.

    However that is all completely irrelevant in our context for the simple reason that these sorts of traps aren’t being used. The traps being used in Wellington/Zealandia will all be either DoC 100/200 type or similar which is a very powerful spring trap triggered by the animal crossing a base plate to get at the lure, or Victor traps which are a larger version of the traditional spring mouse trap. Either trap is designed and tested to kill instantly or within 10 seconds at worst. I hope that helps – and sets your mind at rest on this score.

    Kind regards, Andy

  11. Bob the Bushtail Possum, 4. October 2018, 12:05

    Why not see if any birds are dead? If there are no carcasses and no smashed eggs then there is no problem since either there is no weasel or the weasel is not a bird killer (just like me).

  12. Andrew, 4. October 2018, 14:00

    Scouring 225 hectares of bush to find a dead bird or smashed eggs? Sounds pretty wasteful.

  13. Bob the Bushtail Possum, 4. October 2018, 15:43

    Agreed Andrew and scouring 225 hectares to find a weasel that doesn’t want to be found sounds pretty pointless. But I bet it won’t be difficult to round up a posse of small furry mammal killers.

  14. Trevor H, 4. October 2018, 21:06

    Half a pound of tupenny rice, half a pound of treacle, that’s the way the money goes, pop goes the weasel! Simple.

  15. Andrew, 12. October 2018, 15:43

    It looks like the weasel has been trapped, good news.