Elusive bats come home to roost

The discovery of rare, long-tail bats/pekapeka near Franz Josef for the first time in decades is exciting proof that the Government’s Jobs for Nature and predator free programmes are getting results, Conservation Minister Kiri Allan says.

The bats were found following a survey by a local tourism business funded through the Government’s Jobs for Nature programme.

“Three Franz Josef Wilderness Tours workers collected sound recordings of the highly endangered bat from forested areas around Okarito Lagoon and in the Waitangitāhuna and Whataroa river valleys last summer,” Kiri Allan said.

“These were recently confirmed by Department of Conservation (DOC) bat experts.

“This is a really exciting find and is a tribute to Franz Josef Wilderness Tours, who, despite being hard hit by the downturn in tourism because of Covid, embraced new Jobs for Nature work opportunities.

“DOC’s predator control work will have helped to protect the bats and the Predator Free South Westland project now underway, will help secure their future,” Kiri Allan said.

Franz Josef Wilderness Tours owner Dale Burrows says Jobs for Nature has been a lifeline for his business and he and his staff have enjoyed feeling like they were giving back to nature.

“It’s been a real buzz to discover the long-tailed bats right in our backyard and we’re looking forward to being involved in further work to find out more about the population and protect them.

“We’ve learnt heaps about native species and conservation through this work, and this has brought value to our business as we share this knowledge with the mostly Kiwi visitors who now come on our tours,” Dale Burrows said.

Kiri Allan said DOC had coordinated the bat survey work and provided training to the workers, who then put out bat recorders in likely-looking spots and did the initial data analysis using a “bat search” programme.

“DOC has long suspected that the lush lowland rainforests around Fox and Franz Josef glaciers might be home to pekapeka and have had a few anecdotal sightings over the years, so it’s fantastic to now have this confirmed.

“Further surveys are planned for next summer, when the bats are active, to learn how widely they’re spread,” Kiri Allan said.