But not for long.
By 2050, the island nation hopes to be rid of the invasive mammalian predators — completely.
It’s a goal that was formally announced Monday by New Zealand’s prime minister, John Key. “While once the greatest threat to our native wildlife was poaching and deforestation, it is now introduced predators,” Key said in a statement.
He noted that rats, possums and stoats — which are not native to the islands of New Zealand — kill 25 million native birds each year, and also prey on lizards and other native species.
The invasive species cost the country about 3.3 billion New Zealand dollars (more than $2.3 billion) per year, according to the government’s estimates. They can also carry disease.
Eliminating all invasive predators is “the most ambitious conservation project attempted anywhere in the world,” Key wrote, “but we believe if we all work together as a country we can achieve it.”
The project relies on funding from the federal government, local governments and the private sector. The national government is kicking it off with an extra NZ$28 million (just under $20 million) on top of the tens of millions already spent on pest control by the government each year.
New Zealand has virtually no native mammals — bats, along with ocean-dwelling dolphins, seals and whales, are the only exceptions. The native plants and animals, including kiwi birds and land snails, didn’t evolve with mammalian predators, which means invasive species can have a devastating impact.