The tiniest rat catchers: New Zealand schoolchildren catch and kill 600 pests in 100 days | New Zealand

In a tiny school at the southernmost tip of New Zealand, the children line up to kill.

Big brown rats with long tails, their stomachs full of blood. Smaller rats, stiff from the refrigerator, tails in a tangle.

The kids happily let the rodents roam bare-handed, proud of last night’s catch – and focused on the goal of driving rodents out of the surrounding forests.

This small island school in Halfmoon Bay on Rakiura/Stewart Island recently unleashed its students on the local rodent population, organizing a competition to encourage children to catch and kill hundreds of rats in an effort to preserve the birdlife on the island.

40 students caught more than 600 rats during the 100-day challenge. A five-year-old managed to catch and kill 60 rats over the course of three months.

In TVNZ footage captured during the game, the kids dump bucketfuls of rats onto the school grass, rank them by size and dangle particularly impressive specimens from tails for measurement. Each child got their own trap, made from recycled political billboards.

“My trap, actually the whole thing is a layer of blood,” grins an enthusiastic pest-killer.

“Even the five-year-olds think it’s a good idea. They know the end goal: they want kiwis in their backyard again,” said Emma Jenkinson, chair of the school’s board of trustees, who helped organize the competition. The children’s efforts are part of one of the school’s The world’s most ambitious pest eradication efforts; New Zealand’s national goal of being predator-free by 2050.

A student from Halfmoon Bay with her catch
A student from Halfmoon Bay with her catch Photo: Halfmoon Bay School

The children say they are committed to trying to rid the islands of rats so native birds can thrive. “We went for a walk one time and saw more rats than birds, just in trees, climbing trees probably to get to bird nests and eat their eggs and stuff,” said Bella McRitchie-King, the eventual winner of the competition.

Rats are considered a dangerous pest in New Zealand and a major threat to native wildlife. Because most birds in New Zealand evolved without mammalian predators, they are often highly vulnerable to rats, ermines, cats and other mammals introduced by human arrivals.

Many lay their eggs on the ground where they are vulnerable to being eaten, and some, such as the flightless kiwi, are easy prey for ground hunters. The country is now on a mission to eradicate uncontrolled predators so those bird species can recover. Much of that work is centered on the small islands of Aotearoa, where the marine boundary increases their chances of completely eradicating predators.

With their dead vermin, the kids competed for a series of prizes, including for most rats caught – awarded to 11-year-old Bella who caught 64. The school also awarded prizes for the most aesthetically pleasing rat fur coat (a rich black color), the rat with the weirdest tail, biggest teeth, and largest rat—a whopping 18 inches (45 centimeters) long.

Jenkinson said the kids were already very involved in conservation activities and so weren’t squeamish about their efforts to catch rats. ‘It’s okay for them to catch rats. But to have prizes on offer really raised the stakes.

“For some of the big catchers it was a case of drop on demand,” said Jenkinson. “They were raring to go by the neighbors’ houses, in their sheds, in their backyards.”

Leave a Comment