in a small school at the southernmost tip of new zealandThe kids are killing themselves.
Big brown rats with long tails, their belly stained with blood. Little mice, stiff from the refrigerator, tangled tails.
Children gleefully pass rats through their hands, proud of the previous night’s catch – and determined to eradicate the rodents from the surrounding forests.
This small island school in Halfmoon Bay on Rakiura/Stewart Island recently spread its students on the local rodent population, running a competition encouraging children to catch and kill hundreds of rats in an effort to preserve the island’s birdlife did.
Over 600 rats were caught by 40 students in the 100 day challenge. One five-year-old managed to catch and kill 60 rats over the course of three months.
In tvnz footageCaptured in the midst of the competition, the children toss mice by the bucketful onto the school lawn, organize them according to size, and hang particularly impressive specimens by the tails to measure. Each child was given their own net, made from recycled political billboards.
“My trap, basically the whole thing is a layer of blood,” smiles an enthusiastic vermin-slayer.
“Even the five-year-olds are really into the idea. They know the end goal: they want the kiwi back in their backyard,” said Emma Jenkinson, chair of the school’s board of trustees, who helped organize the competition. Helped. The children’s efforts are part of one of the world’s most ambitious pest-eradication efforts; New Zealand’s national goal of being predator-free by 2050.
The children say they are dedicated to trying to rid the islands of rats so that native birds can flourish. “We went for a walk once and saw more rats than birds, just in the trees, climbing trees to maybe reach birds’ nests and eat their eggs and stuff,” said Bella McCritchie-King, the eventual winner of the competition.
Rats are considered a dangerous pest in New Zealand, and pose a major threat to native wildlife. Because most of New Zealand’s birds evolved without mammalian predators, they are highly vulnerable to rats, stoats, cats and other mammals introduced by human arrival.
Many lay their eggs on the ground where they are vulnerable to being eaten, and some, like the flightless kiwi, are easy prey for ground-based predators. The country is now on a mission to eradicate unruly hunters so that those bird species can recover. Much of that work has focused on the small islands of Aotearoa, where the oceanic boundary strengthens their chances of completely eliminating predators.
Along with their dead insects, the children competed for a range of prizes, including the most rats caught – awarded to 11-year-old Bella, who caught 64 rats. ), the rat with the strangest tail, the largest teeth and the largest rat – an impressive 45 cm long.
Jenkinson said the children were already highly involved in conservation activities, so weren’t concerned about their efforts to catch rats. “It is no big deal for them to trap a mouse. But having the prize on offer really raised the stakes.
“For some of the bigger catchers, it was a matter of catching on demand,” Jenkinson said. “They were getting trapped in neighbors’ houses, in their sheds, in their backyards.”