Meet The Whakatipu Wildlife Trust – Bringing Biodiversity Back To Queenstown

Here’s how this grassroots community conservation initiative is making a real difference to biodiversity in Queenstown and the Whakatipu Basin.

The Whakatipu Wildlife Trust’s vision is to create and maintain a predator-free environment in the Whakatipu Basin for New Zealand birds and other native wildlife to flourish.

Queenstown’s pristine alpine landscapes can be misleading. It may not be obvious, the health of our native ecosystems is under threat from pests that have been accidentally or intentionally introduced to New Zealand.

This is one reason why Queenstown is working to become a regenerative destination with a carbon zero visitor economy by 2030 – to help protect, regenerate and restore the environment that makes it all possible. This change is already happening through the efforts of many local initiatives like the Whakatipu Wildlife Trust.

We caught up with the Trust’s Executive Officer, Joanne Conroy, to find out more about how they’re restoring flourishing ecosystems to Queenstown by trapping pests.

Trapping is vital to regenerate Queenstown’s natural environment

If you’re visiting Queenstown, you’re likely to come across wooden traps on the trails when you're out walking or biking – there are over 3500 of them in the region!

Joanne says, “Visitors coming from around the world can be horrified when they find out we trap hedgehogs and possums. But animals that are precious and protected in other countries cause a real problem here. For example, we have the biggest population of hedgehogs in the world. Hedgehogs are very endearing, and they’re endangered in the UK, but here they eat birds’ eggs and baby lizards. In Australia, possums are protected and they're very cute, but here they eat our native forest and are hard on our environment.”

“Often visitors don’t understand how important trapping is. They don't realize that our native wildlife evolved with no ground-based predators. Falcons and Haast eagles attacked them from above, but nothing attacked them on the ground. So, a lot of our native birds breed on the ground and that makes them a smorgasbord for introduced predators. When visitors destroy traps and throw them away, it’s a problem.”

Rest assured, all of the Trust’s traps are approved by the National Animal Welfare Council – they don't use any traps that cause animal distress. If you’re out exploring Queenstown’s trails, leave these traps as you find them as they’re essential to the future survival of New Zealand native birds and lizards.

A predator trap box at Coronet Peak
Predator trapping at Coronet Peak

A lot goes into keeping our native birds safe

Joanne has been leading the Trust since 2021. She says, “I’ve lived in Queenstown for almost 40 years, and as a walker and a biker, I was on the trails and saw the traps, but I had no comprehension of the scale of the Trust’s activities before I joined. It’s inspiring to see how many people are involved in making the Whakatipu predator-free. We have hundreds of volunteers and thousands of traps around Queenstown alone.”

Running the Trust is more complicated than just putting out a few traps. Joanne explains, “My role is so diverse. I handle promotion. I look after our volunteers. We do events like Trap Tips where trappers get tips on how to improve their technique, and TrapperNatter, a social get-together for trappers. We do birding courses as part of our new monitoring initiative. Then I coordinate trustee meetings and work with DOC, Queenstown Lakes District Council, Otago Regional Council, and LINZ because we’re trapping on their land. We’re always trying to extend the area we cover, so I find funding for new traps, arrange training so new volunteers know how to use them, and get them out on the field. Plus there’s always fundraising to pay our operating costs.”

A close up of a Tūī , New Zealand native bird
Tūī, New Zealand native bird

An environmental success story

When the Trust started in 2017, there were 12 local trapping groups in the Queenstown area. Now there are about 74. Joanne explains, “Several trapping groups have been around for a long time doing their own thing before the Trust came along. The Trust has simply brought them together. We’re talking about the likes of Predator Free Lake Hayes, Arrowtown, and Bring Back the Birds out at Fernhill and Sunshine Bay. It’s not only trapping – Kelvin Heights has fantastic bird life because the residents are also passionate about native planting to create good habitat.”

“Since I started working for the Trust, I’ve added 25-30 new trapping groups. To do that, we identify a place with no trapping, find volunteers and funding to purchase the traps, train the volunteers to do the job, and then get the traps out and running. One new trapping group is working in the reserves around Hanley's Farm. Right now, I’m setting up a new trapping group at Quail Rise because we got funding from the Predator Free 2050 Trust to put traps in people's backyards. So, on Saturday morning I'm going out to meet Quail Rise locals to give them a trap and show them how to use them.”

This year the Trust has already trained 100 new volunteers. Joanne says, “We catch around 7,000 predators each year, but we don't have the ability to monitor how many predators there were to begin with. We’re hoping to measure this with an increased focus on monitoring native animals. We have success stories – the Australian Grebe is an endangered migratory water bird. They come for the summer and breed on Lake Hayes and their numbers have vastly increased over the last 20 years.”

A close up photo of an Australian Crested Grebe
Australian Grebe. Credit

A voice for the wildlife in the Whakatipu Basin

The Trust has recently updated its plans for the future. Joanne explains, “We have three principles. One is around educating the public, stakeholders, and volunteers on the need for greater biodiversity. The second is to be a voice for the wildlife in the Whakatipu Basin. Our third principle is trapping for success, getting more targeted with our work.”

“This includes focusing on trapping in Wye Creek, Gibbston, Bob's Cove and Arrowtown. These are pinch points on the way into town where we can stop predators from moving into the area. We’re also concentrating on keeping wildlife safe in areas with higher biodiversity. Science shows that our birds do better when they can travel from one safe place to the next. We’re aiming for a network of good habitats for them to travel between.”

Eradicating predators is a national movement in New Zealand, “Predator Free 2050 is a government-funded initiative aiming to eradicate predators. Currently, their focus is proof of concept, looking at different ways to eradicate predators within defined geographic areas. They’re trying to find ways to reduce labour and trap costs and improve outcomes with new technology. We've got a lot of wilderness in New Zealand. So, unless we can find an efficient way to trap in backcountry it's going to be impossible to achieve predator free. And there's no doubt that trapping can only be successful when local communities are engaged. Miramar Peninsula up in Wellington is a fine example. They’ve eradicated predators, but only with a lot of intensive work by the local community.”

Scenic of Bob's Cove with lake and mountain views
Bob's Cove, one of the most biodiverse areas in Queenstown

How you can help bring biodiversity back to Queenstown

The Trust is always looking for new volunteers and not just for trapping – they are increasing their focus on monitoring. Queenstown locals can volunteer in a fun citizen science project monitoring the wildlife in their backyard. Joanne says, “Once a week you sit for five minutes and look out for birds and lizards. We’ll get you to install a wētā motel and use a chew card (a piece of core flute folded over with peanut butter inside) to see if there are any predators. Predators come along, get attracted by the smell, chew the card, and leave teeth marks, which can be used to identify them.”

If you’re visiting Queenstown, why not download an app to help you identify native birds and find out more about our environment?

Joanne says, “A lot of organisations give grants for new traps and new initiatives, but it's hard to get operational funding and our biggest cost is operating costs. So, donations towards the Trust are one of the best things you can do to protect the biodiversity and natural habitat of Queenstown.”

You can donate directly to the Whakatipu Wildlife Trust here.

Volunteer Carrying Predator Traps at The Remarkables
Volunteer carrying traps at the Remarkables

Passion for protecting this place

Joanne's passion for protecting Queenstown stems from her love of place. “As a young woman, I was travelling around the South Island with friends, ended up in Queenstown, scored a cool job, and stayed. Now my husband and I are near retirement age, and we don't want to leave because we have everything here: amazing trails, beautiful scenery, great weather, and all the services. It's fantastic.”

If you too have a passion for protecting this place, consider supporting Love Queenstown – a giving platform supporting local climate, conservation and biodiversity projects that actually make an impact. Learn more here.

Our Latest

Related Articles

View all Posts