Endangered species battle image problem

PRICKLY HABITAT: The Mahoenui giant weta lives on only one offshore island and in one protected gorse reserve.
PRICKLY HABITAT: The Mahoenui giant weta lives on only one offshore island and in one protected gorse reserve.

Image could be partly to blame for a lack of funding and support for some of New Zealand's most threatened species.

This month sees the end of the United Nations' International Year of Biodiversity. Yet global species extinction is accelerating, and experts say many species in this country will be lost.

Conservation Department senior technical officer Avi Holzapfel said some species were urgently in need of management, but protection was up to businesses and community groups as well as DOC. Some species struggled to get attention, attract funding or dedicated conservation programmes because they were "hard to get excited about".

"It's easy for cute, cuddly or quirky animals to get attention."

While birds such as kiwi easily appealed to the emotions, Dr Holzapfel used the example of the Dactylanthus taylorii flower, endangered and threatened by possums, stoats and mice.

It was New Zealand's only fully native parasitic flowering plant, and pollinated by the equally endangered short-tailed bat. However, as the plant spent its life underground till flowering, it was difficult to see, and therefore hard to gain support for. With the flower now at 5 per cent of its original distribution, DOC had managed to turn its decline around by actively managing it by putting cages around plants.

About $1 million a year is spent on programmes to save the kiwi, compared with about $5000 to $10,000 on the plant. A similar amount is spent on the Mahoenui giant weta, which exists only on one predator-free offshore island and a small Waikato DOC-managed reserve.

Each year DOC spends about $2000 to $3000 protecting invertebrates, and Dr Holzapfel used the examples of the leaf- veined slug and New Zealand's giant carnivorous snails as an example of a species "probably not on people's minds a lot".

"You have to tell a story. You have to appeal to something else. Then often you get engagement."

Landcare research ecologist Bill Lee said there had been, for example, a 50 per cent increase in the past five years in the number of threatened plant species.

There were now 180 severely in danger, mostly in areas where human activity was greatest. He praised New Zealand's efforts in "crisis management", at saving species from near extinction on offshore islands or in relatively small areas.

However, the "jury was still out" on whether conservation efforts were leading to the establishment of self-sustaining populations in larger mainland areas.

The Resource Management Act was an inadequate instrument for achieving protection for New Zealand's native species, Dr Lee said. Although New Zealand had a 20-year biodiversity strategy – of which this year is the midway point – the failure for that to be morphed into a national policy statement meant it could not be used in conjunction with the RMA to identify biodiversity priorities.

Auckland University research associate John Craig said most of New Zealand's land was not covered by any active biodiversity management and most species lacked targeted recovery work.

The Dominion Post