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Published: 2000-11-08 00:00:00

Possums have been hard hit in a possum control operation throughout the Hauhungaroa Range on the western side of Lake Taupo.

The operation, carried out by two Iroqois and a jet ranger helicopter during July and August, has reduced possum populations to 0.3 percent – a very low number which should successfully reduce bovine Tb infection. The work was jointly funded by the Animal Health Board and Department of Conservation and carried out by Epro Ltd, which contracts to Environment Waikato.

Environment Waikato Biosecurity Group Manager John Simmons said historically the area had been a major focus for Tb infection, with 54 infected herds in 1993. A control operation was carried out in 1994, dropping infection rates. Infected herds numbered 12 this year. The area was re-treated with 2500 tonnes of 1080 impregnated carrot bait to reduce infected herds to zero.

Mr Simmons said monitoring using the residual trap catch technique indicated an extremely good result which should ensure an even longer period of low possum numbers in the area. The operation cost about $500,000.

The Waihaha Ecological Area was a major beneficiary of the operation, with exceptional recovery of bird life over the past six years.

Landcare Research scientist Jackie Whitford spent two weeks camped in the bush and was impressed with the return of birds.

“We put five 20 trap possum monitoring lines out for three nights and didn’t catch a single possum. The bird life in the area – kaka, tomtits, rifleman and robins are numerous and there were a fair number singing. We also did not find any dead birds the whole time we were there.”

Local farmer Peter Kidd said possums were now an “endangered species” in the area. He had had one animal testing positive to Tb in the past but was now clear of movement control.

“The original operation made a big difference in this area and this follow up should ensure that a low number is maintained for a considerable time. I’ve also noticed a lot of re-growth in the vegetation.”