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Make NZ predator free by 2050: PM

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 25/07/2016

The government wants to make New Zealand predator free by 2050 in a major push to protect the country's native wildlife.

Prime Minister John Key unveiled the ambitious new goal at Wellington's Zealandia wildlife sanctuary on Monday.

Rats, possums and stoats, which kill 25 million of New Zealand's native birds every year and prey on other native species like lizards, will be the main targets. "While there was once a time when the greatest threat was deforestation and poaching, today it is those introduced predators," Mr Key said.

The government admits it's the most ambitious conservation project attempted anywhere in the world. In 2013, the University of Auckland said making the country predator-free over 50 years was possible but it would cost more than $9 billion.

"It's a big goal and it's going to take a lot of effort," Mr Key said. "But I think it's proven to be possible on those outer islands and I think with the right effort and the right commitment we can do it right across the country."

While feral cats can expect to be in the firing line, Mr Key says pet cats - including his own cat Moonbeam - will be spared.

"They'll still have plenty of years in front of them in front of the fire," he told reporters.

A new joint venture company called Predator Free New Zealand will be set up to drive the programme. It will work with communities, attract co-investors and accelerate the scale of pest control. It will also invest in scientific research to eradicate predators.

The company will get an initial $28 million injection from the government, to be spread across four years. It's hoped it will be up and running by early next year.

Mr Key said the government would be looking to provide funding for suppression and eradication projects on a one-for-two basis - meaning for every $2 committed by local councils and the private sector, the government will contribute another dollar.

The government already spends about $60m to $80m on pest control each year.

The Greens have welcomed the government's announcement, but it say it will take more than lip service and putting out the begging bowl to the private sector to pitch in.

"We have real concerns over what will happen to this predator-free dream if the government can't attract private funding, or if that private funding dries up," the party's conservation spokesman Kevin Hague said.

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