The number of whio in the Tongariro catchment is growing, thanks to a recovery plan run by the Department
of Conservation from 2009 to 2019 and groups of volunteers who monitor hundreds of traps in the region.
Two Taupō Fishing Club members and dedicated trappers Chris Pritt – the sister of DU Patron Di Pritt – and Lesley Hosking are been doing their bit on the upper reaches of the Hinemaiaia River. Lesley says, "We have trapped mostly rats and other predators on the upper Hinemaiaia River for more than two years, starting in August 2018 with only eight trap stations. We now check 42 traps every week – these are 36 box traps with DOC 200 trap mechanisms and 8 Goodnature A12 or A24 gas operated traps.
"We took over this part of the river to assist and free up David Cade (aka Didymo Dave) who started the trapping with the aim of getting the native birdlife to flourish again. He now traps further upstream on a regular basis while we patrol the well-worn fishing tracks and three car parks."
Didymo Dave has been trapping on the Hinemaiaia for 10 years and in 2019 caught his 1000th rat. "To date we have trapped 328 predators which include hundreds of rats and mice, four weasels, two stoats, and one possum, which was in the DOC 200 trap," Lesley says.
Pic's Peanut Butter is their bait of choice and they use about 5kg every six weeks. The peanut butter is waste from the Pic's factory which sells it at a reduced price on the Predator Free website. It is not edible as it has a greenish additive.
"By trapping so rigorously, we now have the reward of seeing North Island robin, tomtits, kereru, fantails, tui, bellbirds, whiteheads, and two whio have moved in near Car Park 3; we hope they will mate and there will be more whio. The pair seem overly friendly and we think perhaps they have originated from the Tūrangi whio raising enclosure," Lesley says.
Lesley and Chris are unsure if the whio nested this season but say they have taken up residence on the far side of the river where there are no fishing tracks.
The Taupō Fishing Club originally became involved in vermin trapping because its members were sick of rats chewing newly caught trout laid out on the riverbank while they continued fishing.
The two women fish two or three days a week on Flaxy Lakes, the Tongariro River and river delta, Waimarino River mouth, and in summer, they boat fish on Lake Taupō.
In January, their volunteer work was nationally recognised by the New Zealand Sports Fishing Council which awarded Lesley and Chris its 2020 Volunteers of the Year award.
As well as their trapping work, the pair worked together to save the Taupō Fishing Club when it was facing physical, financial and administrative collapse.
Club president Shirley Fraser says, “Our clubrooms were in desperate need of maintenance after having been neglected for years. Extensive rat damage had resulted in major water damage."
The building was collapsing and needed repainting, the roof needed repairing and guttering, wiring, and plumbing needed replacing.
“Not only did they do much of the prep work, painting, cleaning and so on, they organised quotes, oversaw the tradesmen and brought the project in under budget. Now the rooms are a pleasure to call ours.”
Lesley and Chris also took on the job of implementing a new administration system and overhauling the club finances and reporting systems.