Professor Dan TompkinsUpdates on Predator Free 2050: Progress and Challenges

On Saturday, April 13th, Forest Bridge Trust team members joined conservation enthusiasts, trappers, and academics who gathered at Puhoi Hall for a captivating two-hour update from Professor Dan Tompkins of Predator Free 2050. Hosted by Restore Rodney East, the event aimed to bring together individuals from across the region who share a common goal of protecting New Zealand’s biodiversity.

Predator Free 2050, initiated under the directive of former National Prime Minister Sir John Key in 2017, sets out an ambitious goal to eliminate mainland introduced predator/pest animals. Professor Tompkins kicked off his talk with an insightful overview of why the project was established and what it aims to achieve, followed by an update on its progress over the past seven years.

With the primary focus on the removal of mustelids, possums, and rats, Predator Free 2050 envisions healthier and thriving ecosystems across New Zealand. As Professor Tompkins aptly puts it, “Trapping is the modern-day equivalent to planting a tree.”

Dan Tompkins - Predator free 2050

The project has funded 18 separate initiatives across New Zealand, ranging from tool development to genetic research, with ongoing analysis of the results from the past seven years. While there are promising findings indicating improved biodiversity outcomes, healthier vegetation, and increases in kiwi populations and invertebrate abundance, the question remains: Is Predator Free 2050 achievable with our current tools and knowledge?

Addressing this crucial question, Predator Free 2050 acknowledges the need for further research and development to scale up post-2030, as well as enhancing social outreach. Promising advancements include thermal cameras, a genome library for targeted species, AI hardware, robotics for surveillance, and drone trials. Research into fertility control and safer toxins is also underway.

With New Zealand’s diverse habitats and unique challenges, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to achieving predator-free status. Nevertheless, as Professor Tompkins emphasises, there isn’t time to wait for academic research to provide all the answers. Predator Free 2050’s focus is on testing projects at the coalface, learning from practical experience, and identifying strategies with the potential to move forward.

Dan Tompkins - Predator free 2050

Over the past eight years, the project has achieved significant milestones, including advancements in AI camera recognition, improvements to the Trap NZ App, innovations in thermal imaging, and the development of traps with self-dispensing lures and long-lasting bait blocks. Additionally, research into traps versus toxins and the development of toxins targeting specific species have shown promising results.

As the journey towards a Predator-Free 2050 continues, Professor Tompkins and his team remain dedicated to pushing the boundaries of innovation and collaboration, recognising that protecting New Zealand’s biodiversity is a collective endeavour that requires ongoing dedication and perseverance.