How I Became a Trapper

I still remember the day I decided to become a trapper. It was on the final day of a two-week tramping trip all through Kahurangi National Park and around Nelson Lakes. Even though the weather had been dreadful, I was thoroughly enjoying spending my days fully immersed in nature. I realised I had fallen in love with tramping and promised myself I would find a way to keep hiking as much as I could, even though I lived in a big city.  

One of the wooden boxes along the track caught my eye, and it suddenly dawned on me that this could be my answer. I could become a pest trapper, which would get me out in the bush on a regular basis. On my return to Auckland I did some research and within a few weeks I found myself at Ark in the Park, being shown how to check, clear and reset several types of traps.

Located in Waitākere Ranges Regional Park, Ark in the Park is a partnership between Forest & Bird and Auckland Council, supported by local mana whenua Te Kawerau ā Maki. The organisation’s vision is to create a safe haven for native species, including toutouwai/North Island robins and North Island kōkako. 

The friendly people of Ark in the Park provided me with all the training and equipment I needed, and even gave me the choice between a short, easy trapline or a longer, more strenuous route. At Ark in the Park, each trapline has a team of four people looking after it, which meant I would be checking traps one weekend per month. 

My Trapping Career

I was now the proud owner of a trapping line which I was checking on a regular basis. The line was a nice 5-kilometre loop with a bit of everything: some bush bashing, followed by a lovely stretch along a little stream, as well as a portion along existing tracks. Instead of finding it boring to walk the same loop every month, I really enjoyed coming back to the same patch of forest and getting to know it intimately.

Trapping in the Waitākere Ranges; Photo credit: EcoMatters Environment Trust

After six months, I adopted another line, which meant I was now checking traps in the Waitākere Ranges two days per month. Yes, this included dealing with dead animals (which might not be for everyone, but I didn’t mind it). On the contrary, when I moved out of Auckland a year later, I was sad to say goodbye to the forest I had gotten to know so well.

Trapping in the Waitākere Ranges; Photo credit: EcoMatters Environment Trust

So once I got settled in my new hometown Wānaka, I reached out to a few of the local pest trapping groups. I received a reply from two different volunteer groups, and after looking into what they were doing, decided to join both.

The first one is the Makarora Trapping Group, a partnership between Forest & Bird and DOC, with a fairly large trapping network in the beech forest near Makarora. Instead of owning a specific line, everyone is rostered in for a different line with different people each month. This is a great way to meet new people as well as explore different corners of the forest stretching from Makarora to the Haast Pass.

Trapping up high in the Matukituki Valley. Photo credit:  Geoff Marks

The second group is the Matukituki Charitable Trust, with an even bigger trapping network that stretches all across the West Matukituki, from the valley floor to the tops above the bushline. With plenty of people interested in helping out, this group simply sends out an email every time they need volunteers. The Matukituki Valley is a stunning place to help out with pest trapping, especially the high alpine lines offering spectacular scenery and making for a great (and often strenuous) day out. Occasionally, we are dropped off at the tops by helicopter, so that we ‘only’ have to walk down, but given that this is a 1200+ meter descent, it doesn’t necessarily mean an easy day!

The latest promotion in my trapping career is getting involved with tracking. To find out whether what we are catching is a good representation of which small mammals are present, we use tracking tunnels to monitor which animals are around. Once every three months, we fill a number of corflute tunnels in the bush with a piece of cardboard that contains a dollop of peanut butter, surrounded by ink. This means that any animal walking through the tunnel to have a nibble will leave its footprints on the cardboard on its way out. The cards are left out overnight and collected again the next morning, which makes it the perfect excuse for a night camping out in the bush.  

A tracking tunnel in Makarora

What I Like About Trapping

Looking back on the four years I have been involved with pest trapping, I think the following things have been my favourite aspects:

I get to do more hiking

This was the main reason for me to get involved, and it is still an important part of why I enjoy pest trapping. With my regular trapping missions, I am sure to head out into the forest at least once a month, and I always feel better for it! It is a great way to keep up my fitness, not in the least because some trapping lines do not follow tracks but involve a certain amount of bush bashing instead.

Lunch break during my trapping round


I’m meeting new and like-minded people

In both Auckland and Wānaka, getting involved with the local pest trapping scene has been a great way to meet people. My experience is that it takes a certain type of person to volunteer to clear traps, which means you are likely to have quite a bit in common with your fellow trappers. In Wānaka, most people that have the time to volunteer are retirees, whereas I am in my mid-thirties. But even with the age gap, I find that I have lots to talk about when I’m out in the bush with people.

Trapping up high in the Matukituki Valley

I’m contributing to a good cause

This might be an obvious one, but it’s really nice to volunteer your time and skills for a good cause. It makes me feel useful, and gives me the feeling that I’m contributing and part of something bigger. With pest trapping, it is great to see or hear more birds, and know that you have contributed to creating a safer environment for them. 

I’m learning new things

Volunteering is not just about giving up your time, you actually receive a lot in return! In addition to meeting new people and gaining hiking fitness, I have learned a lot of new skills. On top of that, being involved with a local conservation project has taught me more about my own local area, New Zealand’s native flora and fauna, as well as about the wider predator issue in New Zealand and the government’s goal of eradicating possums, stoats and rats by 2050. 

Keen to Get Involved?

If you’re interested in pest trapping, here’s my advice. Do some online research or ask around to find out about your local pest trapping group. With thousands of projects across all of New Zealand, there is bound to be a group near you! You can also use the Predator Free NZ website to find a local conservation project. 

If you are not convinced yet whether pest trapping is for you, ask if you can join someone for a day to get a better idea. I think most groups would be happy for someone to tag along and see what’s involved, if there is the chance they’ll end up with another volunteer. 

If you would like to help out, but you don’t want to deal with dead animals, ask if there is any other way for you to offer support. Some groups have bait stations that need to be refilled, or perhaps you can join the maintenance team and help with fixing up old or making new trap boxes. You might also be able to help with monitoring, including tracking tunnels or five-minute bird counts. You could even start small and begin with trapping in your own backyard.

There’s plenty of ways to get involved with conservation in your local area, so just give it a try and see – you might really enjoy it!