The littlest rat catchers: New Zealand schoolchildren trap and kill 600 pests in 100 days
The children are busy plotting their next move in a small school at the southern tip of New Zealand.
Large brown rats with long tails and bloody stomachs. The tails of smaller rats are tangled from being chilled.
Children happily share the rodents with their naked hands, proud of last night’s catch, and focused on the goal of eliminating rodents from surrounding forests.
Halfmoon Bay, Rakiura/Stewart Island’s small school recently released its students on the local rodent population. They ran a competition for children to capture and kill hundreds of rats to help preserve the island’s birdlife.
Over the course of the 100-day challenge, 40 students captured more than 600 rats. A five-year old managed to capture and kill 60 rats in three months.
TVNZ footage shows children dumping bucketloads upon the school’s lawn. They arrange the rats according to their size and then hang the most impressive specimens on the tails to measure. Each child received their own trap made from recycled political billboards.
One enthusiastic vermin-slayer grins, “My trap, basically it’s the whole thing in a layer of blood.”
Even the five-year olds love the idea. Emma Jenkinson, the chair of the school’s board of trustees and organizer of the competition, said that they know the ultimate goal: they want kiwis to return to their backyards. Children’s efforts are part one of the most ambitious pest-eradication efforts in the world. New Zealand has set itself the goal to be predator-free by 2050.
They are determined to eradicate rats from the island so native birds can flourish, according to the children. Bella McRitchie King, the ultimate winner of the competition, stated that they saw more rats on a walk than birds.
Rats are a serious threat to native wildlife in New Zealand and are considered a pest. Most New Zealand’s birds are able to survive without the help of mammalian predators. Rats, stoats and cats can cause serious damage to them.
Many birds lay their eggs on the ground, making them vulnerable to being eaten. Some, such as the flightless Kiwi, make easy prey for ground-based hunter. To help bird species recover, the country has set out to eliminate uncontrolled predators. A lot of the work has been done on Aotearoa’s small islands. The sea border increases their chances of eliminating predators completely.
The children competed with their dead vermin for various prizes. Bella, 11, was awarded the prize for most rats caught. Awards were also given out by the school for the most attractive rat fur coat (a rich, black colour), and the rat with the longest tail, largest teeth, and longest rat – a staggering 45 centimetres in length.
Jenkinson stated that the children were already very involved in conservation activities and were not afraid to try rat trapping. It’s not a big deal for them to do rat trapping. The stakes were raised when prizes were offered.
Jenkinson stated that “for some of the major catchers, it was an issue of trapping upon demand.” “They were trapping in neighbours’ yards, in their sheds.”