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Deep in the heart of Conservation Week, I found myself cold, wet and still smashing around in the bush as dark fell.
It wasn’t quite how I expected the day to end, but then again the mission wasn’t quite what I expected either.
Prompted by a savage onslaught of stoats which had pretty much picked this year’s brood of baby kiwi clean, Whakatane Kiwi Trust decided to turn on a new weapon in its arsenal: PAPP (para-aminopropiophenone) poison.
But the first thing was to lay a trail with fake baits and to see if any stoats would come and get them in preference to a small, defenceless bird with size 13 feet and hairy nostrils on the wrong end of its beak.
That meant laying a trail of rabbit meatballs in tunnels.
The tunnels have a special card in them that has an ink patch near the centre, with the theory being that anything which reaches the feed in the middle will lay a nice set of footprints on the way out.
Footprints equals something (ideally a stoat!) that can be killed by lacing the next meatball with poison.
That’s the basic theory. The practical reality is a bit more complex and means putting the tunnels in appropriate places; which is where the cold, wet, smashing around in the dark comes in.
Equipped with our meatballs, tracking cards, a map and GPS, fellow volunteer Peter and I set off for a brisk stroll through the Ohope Scenic Reserve part of the Whakatane and Ohiwa Gem with a course of 30-something tunnels to find and bait.
According to our briefing, all the tunnels were in place and most were conveniently alongside the tracks we would be following, and there would even be marker tags to help – “although some could be a bit harder to find because Jamie was thinking like a stoat when he put them out.”
More on Jamie’s “thinking like a stoat” later.
Suffice to say “Find the Tracking Tunnel” turned into what could only be described as geoteering with purpose.
With all the good elements of a traditional adventure race – navigation, hard to find checkpoints, spectacular terrain and a team-mate to engage in cheerful banter – it turned out to be a fine afternoon.
Needing to resort to the GPS on a couple of checkpoints should probably have sounded fair warning.
The thunder definitely sounded a warning.
By the time we were canyoning down a narrow stream gorge, complete with a rope descent of a waterfall, the warnings had reached the brain but with only a few checkpoints to go it was easier to continue to the end than turn back and call it a day.
Eventually we emerged onto Pohutukawa Ave in Ohope.
If it were an adventure race our penalty points would have entirely wiped out any credits we earned for finding checkpoints.
“Stoat thinking” had a lot to do with it.
Sadly, however, what stoats really think is still a mystery. In spite of the enormous fun we had (which was repeated by the card collectors the following day), the stoats resolutely refused to join the game and not a single footprint was recorded.
It would be easy to say the whole exercise was a waste of time but the reality is we had a heap of fun, felt we were contributing to a great environmental project and successfully established that Jamie cannot, and does not, think like a stoat.