Co-project manager Sera Gibson says the Taranaki Mounga project began five years ago as a collaboration between Te Papa Atawhai (DoC), Taranaki Iwi Chairs forum, and philanthropic investor NEXT Foundation to restore the mauri (life force) of Taranaki Mounga owing to pest eradication.
“This project is there to help bring people to connect a place, and work every day to eradicate those pests from the mounga and let our wildlife flourish,” Gibson says.
In Taranaki, a programme is giving young Māori apprentices the chance to help safeguard native birds by eradicating predators on their mounga.
The Taranaki Mounga apprenticeship plan is part of a national initiative to train more animal pest management experts to help the predator-free vision become a reality.
Unlike many other apprenticeships, Gibson adds, this is a hands-on introduction to restoration conservation work allowing rangatahi to develop a connection and a feeling of drive and ambition for the job they undertake.
“It's very hands-on...learning on the mounga as opposed to in class.”
Mereana Hanrahan, a current apprentice, says she is enjoying learning about the different manu, forming relationships with her coworkers and participating in the many wānanga (traditional learning symposiums).
“Last week, we had a wānanga about pelting, which is just to skin the bird ... When it’s dried out, you can use it like kākahu. But after that wānanga, I just felt so much more connected, like I intimately knew the manu as well. I’m loving everything,” says Hanrahan.
As a mokopuna of Taranaki Mounga, Gibson says there is nothing greater than fighting to restore the mounga, the birds and treading in our ancestors' footsteps.
“We have a real purpose in the work that you do. And it's a real privilege actually to be able to do this mahi and bring along our apprentices on that journey with us.”
The kiwi, whio (blue duck), toutouwai (robin), and titipounamu (rifleman bird) are just a handful of the native birds that the Taranaki Mounga Project wants to safeguard, according to Gibson.
“Their main pests are possums, stoats, rats, all of those nasties that have been introduced in our primary roles to remove those pests from the landscape to allow our wildlife to flourish.”