A stoat spotted on Kapiti Island has threatened the predator-free status of the renowned nature reserve.
Conservation Department biodiversity threats manager Colin Giddy said a DOC contractor saw a stoat about seven metres from her at Rangatira, in the centre of the island, on Thursday.
"It looked at her, then scuttled away. It was a highly credible sighting. Our best-case scenario is there was only of them and it was male and, if we don't catch it, it will die over time. The worst case is that is was a pregnant female or there are more or them."
He believed the animal probably swam there from the mainland, though it is outside their normal range.
The department has begun setting a network of traps and tracking tunnels and may use a dog to help track the stoat. "This is going to be a long drawn-out contingency [plan] because stoats travel large distances and are very elusive. It will be like finding a needle in a haystack."
He admitted the island could no longer be called predator-free. "We hope to turn it back to being predator-free within 6-12 months. We might be lucky and catch it within the first couple of weeks but, because of the rugged terrain, it is unlikely."
Kapiti Island officially became a nature reserve in 1977. Possums were eliminated from the 1965-hectare island in 1986 and rats eradicated between 1996 and 1998, after which it gained pest and predator-free status.
The island is home to many rare and endangered native bird species including little spotted kiwi, kokako, takahe, saddleback, stitchbird and North Island robin.
Maori landowners living on north end of the island were "disturbed and saddened" to learn of the stoat sighting. Jim Webber, who convenes the Waiorua Bay Trust that administers the 14 hectares of Maori freehold land on Kapiti, said the owners supported the department's biodiversity programme and would do everything they could to help.
"As far as I am aware, this is the first time a stoat has been seen on Kapiti and it must be considered a serious threat."
- The Dominion Post