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Q & A about our Predator Control Specialist Positions

Updated: Jul 3

Q: What kind of experience do I need to work as a predator control specialist? Is trapping experience required?

A: The most important experience you can have as an applicant is just time working in remote field settings where you need to plan ahead, navigate complex terrain, adapt to changing environments, take detailed data on your study subject(s), and collaborate with co-workers. Our staff have a variety of field experiences, all of which make them great predator control specialists and biologists: our staff have experience in everything from botany, invasive plant control, fence construction, loko i'a restoration, fisheries research, small mammal research and avian monitoring to wolf and bear trapping and research.

Although having a background in trapping can be helpful, we find it’s sometimes easier to learn new tricks rather than unlearn bad habits. Being a skilled and effective trapper takes time, deliberate practice, dedication, patience, and fine attention to detail. We can teach just about anyone to trap according to our standards, but we find that attitude and mindset are often the difference between the good and the great trappers.

Q: What is life in the field like?

A: Our staff spend 4 days per week living and working in some of the most remote areas on Kaua’i, because that’s where the remnant populations of Endangered seabirds are located. These seabirds nest in the cliffs and along the steep ridgelines of the Hono o Na Pali Natural Area reserve, and so we need to monitor and remove predators from these areas. Hiking with a heavy field pack along these ridgelines through dense ulu’he ferns can be difficult and exhausting, but we all find it very rewarding. Most days are spent hiking along the various narrow ridgeline trails and stream drainages to check and set various monitoring cameras and predator traps. Along the way we document any native species we encounter, both listening and watching for various bird and plant species. It takes both vigilance and patience to keep traplines in perfect condition in a rainforest, especially as predator presence is relatively low. At night we stay at campsites or in weatherports, where we fall asleep to the seabirds calling in the air above. Staying and working in these locations is a privilege that we do not take lightly, and it is our duty to take care in staying in these areas, leaving as small a footprint as possible. We also remove patches of incipient weeds, hunt for invasive Barn Owls, and monitor for Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death. Some of these sites are almost impossible to access on foot, and so we fly in and out in a helicopter.

Q: What seabirds are you protecting, and why?

A: For most of our projects, we are directly protecting Federally Endangered ‘Ua’u (Hawaiian Petrel, Pterodroma sandwichensis) and Federally Threatened 'A'o (Newell’s Shearwater, Puffinus newelli) colonies. Once found in abundance from the coasts to the mountains, these species are only found in the most remote cliffs and ridges on Kaua’i. Kaua’i holds 90% of the remaining population of 'A'o, which makes its protection especially critical. These seabirds hold cultural significance to the Hawaiian people, and bring critical nitrogen and other nutrients to the land.

Both of these species faced serious decline between 1993 and 2013 (Raine et al 2017), due to a combination of factors including powerline strikes, habitat loss, human disturbance, and invasive predators. In the remote mountains, the most direct threat is invasive predators. Such predators include rats, cats, pigs and Barn Owls (Tyto alba), all of which were brought over by humans. On other Hawaiian Islands, mongoose are an additional threat, but Kaua’i does not have an established mongoose population.

These seabirds adapted a unique anti-predator defense by breeding on remote oceanic islands, where terrestrial mammals couldn’t reach them. Because they evolved without the presence of terrestrial predators, these birds have no defenses against them, and therefore require intervention in order to assure the species’ survival. Through predator control, we have seen, not only a reduction in the loss of these birds, but a GROWTH in the populations we protect! With our predator control projects in place, both species are predicted to increase in population into the future (Raine et al 2020).

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