The discovery of weasel footprints on 1st October put staff on full alert at Zealandia, Wellington’s urban wildlife sanctuary.
If a weasel had somehow got into the sanctuary, it was potential bad news for the vulnerable wildlife living there. Zealandia is surrounded by an 8.6-kilometre predator fence, designed to exclude predators like weasels but, nevertheless, constant surveillance is needed in case of incursions.
Around 110 DOC200 traps were set around the 225-hectare sanctuary, baited with rabbit meat and eggs. Camera traps were also set to help verify the identity of the intruder. While it was thought a weasel was the most likely culprit, weasel footprints can be confused with those of stoats or rats. The camera trap confirmed it was a weasel; recorded three times on video at the same location.
Just over a week after suspicions were first aroused, the weasel was caught in a humane kill trap, ending the first predator incursion at Zealandia in 10 years. Thankfully, the female weasel appeared not to be pregnant, which might have signalled the presence of a mate as well. How the weasel got into the sanctuary remains a mystery.
Weasels are one of three mustelid species that have been introduced to New Zealand, to the detriment of our native wildlife. Mustelid droppings can be another field sign to look out for as all three species (weasels, stoats and ferrets) characteristically leave their droppings in conspicuous locations, like the top of a rock, to mark their territory.
Photograph: The telltale footprints on found on tracking paper in a tracking tunnel. The mustelid prints are at the bottom of the image (or the left side of the paper facing the way the animal was headed) and weta prints above. (Courtesy of Zealandia)