A 3-year project to determine the feasibility of controlling several pest mammals in north-eastern New Caledonia was initiated in 2003. Focused on the 5000 hectare Mont Panié Botanical Reserve, this project has been supported by the Province Nord Government, Conservation International and Maruia Trust de Nouvelle-Caledonié, as well as by NZAID. As part of PII’s project development process a feasibility study was undertaken in 2003 by pest control specialists from the Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG) and the New Zealand Department of Conservation. The feasibility report concluded that controlling pest mammals within the reserve was potentially achievable. However, a lack of relevant precedents in New Caledonia meant that a sequential approach to developing capacity to effectively control pests should be adopted. In 2004 control techniques focusing on feral pigs and rats were trialled. Strong stakeholder support was expressed for the development of techniques to effectively exclude pigs from tribal gardens in the vicinity of the mountain. An experimental rat and cat trapping site was chosen at Thoven – an accessible lowland site where local people were trained in rat trapping and monitoring. Other techniques were refined to suit the local conditions. During September and October 2005, in the last year of this initial ‘Proof of Concept’ project, field trials were undertaken to test the success of pig, rat and cat control.
Whilst trapping and exclusion fencing could be used in some situations, it was concluded that hunting pigs (Sus scrofa) with trained dogs is the most effective approach to reducing the impact of pigs on tribal gardens. Because local people do not normally use dogs for this purpose, 3 trained dogs were taken to the Mont Panié area during this phase. These dogs, with their experienced New Zealand handlers, caught 25 pigs in as many hunting days. Interested local hunters were encouraged to accompany the dog/handler teams on their hunts. Local hunters were very impressed by the potential of trained hunting dogs to reduce pig impacts on gardens.
Trained local people and Department of Conservation specialists undertook an intensive rat trapping programme within a 100 hectare experimental site at Thoven during September and October 2005. They found that once ship rat (Rattus rattus) numbers had been significantly reduced, Pacific rat (Rattus exulans) numbers increased. This suggests that the Pacific rat population was being suppressed by the Black rats. Interestingly, no mice were trapped during this project. A number of feral cats were also trapped within the experimental trapping area. In addition to cats, it is clear that feral dogs are also present in the forest. Results from the investigations and trials suggest there is potential to effectively control rodents and feral cats within the Mont Panié reserve.
A symposium of key stakeholders is to be held in late November 2006, to discuss the implementation of a conservation and development strategy for Mont Panié - including management of invasive species. The PII contribution to the symposium will be the promotion of an experimental pest control project designed to determine the achievability and value of controlling pests in this area. If properly designed and appropriately supported this experimental pest control project has the potential to be an important catalyst for further pest control in New Caledonia.
Souad Boudjelas - firstname.lastname@example.org