New Zealand is a beautiful country. If you live there, or if you have ever been there, or if you have simply indulged in watching The Lord of the Rings, you know about its breathtaking landscapes. The country has a wide variety of animals that call the three main islands that make up the space, home. New Zealanders are well aware of their country's unique stature, and have long taken great strides to protect the flora and fauna found living naturally within its borders. In order to do so, the country has developed some of the strictest quarantine rules in the world.
Why is this? Due to its geographic isolation, New Zealand was naturally protected from many foreign diseases and pests, for a very long time. Long before it became a country, the land evolved in seclusion for millions of years. That all ended when Polynesian voyageurs arrived on its soil some 700 to 800 years ago, however. The “native” settlers brought new plants with them, as well as animals such as the Polynesian dog, and the Pacific rat.
Following this arrival, Europeans came to New Zealand to live in the late 18th century. It was this group that introduced a plethora of new species to the islands, acts which eventually resulted in the quarantine laws needed to protect the vitality of life on the islands.
What exactly did people bring to New Zealand that was not there before? Here is a look at eight animals introduced to the country by European settlers, and the problems that resulted.
8. Norway Rats
The first people to come to the islands of New Zealand were the Polynesians, around 1250-1300, and they brought with them, (likely by accident), the Pacific rat. (Interestingly, there is no rat that is native to New Zealand).
Later on, the Norway rat came to the country with European explorers in the 1700s. This pest came in on ships it was inhabiting, and it now lives in the country in areas near wetlands and damp lowland bushes, causing trouble by eating birds’ eggs and other native species.
7. Wild Pigs
Wild pigs were first introduced to New Zealand by Captain James Cook, an early European explorer who came to the islands in the latter part of the 1700s. Unfortunately, wild pigs love to eat berries, fruits and succulent stems found in forests that would have otherwise gone towards feeding native species. In this way, they have become invasive, as there can be up to 40 pigs in about 0.6 square miles of forest floor.
Captain Cook may have had good intentions, but they definitely were not well thought out. This guy also introduced goats to New Zealand in the 1770s. History shows that whalers and sealers also brought goats, which were used to control blackberry populations. The goats soon escaped their owners' clutch, however, and now live wild in places throughout New Zealand. These animals cause problems in the ecosystem because the plants they eat are replaced by inedible ones, reducing forests to grasslands.
Yes, even deer were brought to New Zealand by the Europeans. It is hard to imagine transporting a deer or two across the ocean successfully in a ship, but reports indicate these animals were brought over between the 1850s and the 1920s. This was done in order for hunters to have something to play with. The deer multiplied so well, however, and damaged so much vegetation that the government had to eventually control their populations with culling.
Those seeking to create a sustainable fur industry in New Zealand brought possums to the country from Australia in the late 1800s. Unfortunately, possums feed on berries and they are so prolific they push out native species like bats and lizards from their habitats.
Possums also like to eat insects, bats, birds, and eggs, and in doing so, they also cause harm. Possums are now so prolific in farmland and bush areas in the country that they occupy about 95% of these areas.
Rabbit stew, anyone? These friendly critters were likely brought to New Zealand with good intentions, but they did not pan out. If you have ever lived in an area with wild rabbits but few of their predators, you know how fast bunny populations can grow.
As an answer to this problem, stoats, also called “ermines”, were introduced to New Zealand in the 1870s. Unfortunately the stoats then did too well, causing the extinction of other animals. This included the stitchbird, the little spotted kiwi and saddlebacks, to name a few.
It all sounds a bit like a children’s song: the rabbits came, and multiplied, and then the stoats came to kill off the rabbits. And then the cats came to kill off the excess stoats.
Feral cats were brought to the islands by Captain James Cook, as well as fishermen, later on. These cats caused many birds in New Zealand to die out including parakeets, the native, and robins.
Exactly how German wasps arrived in New Zealand is not entirely known, but there are some good guesses as to how it occurred. Some say that hibernating German wasp queens stowed away in crates filled with aircraft parts arriving from Europe. This is thought to have happened after World War II, and that the wasps first arrived in 1945.
The wasps are now a problem as they consume up to 90% of the available honeydew in some areas. This is needed for other native creatures to survive in New Zealand throughout the winter, and so the wasps are depriving these creatures of much needed food.