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Conservation Dogs at Work

With forty seven pest free island sanctuaries throughout the Hauraki Gulf - from Tiritiri Matangi, right on our doorstep to Rakitū island, to the East of Great Barrier, these islands are free of damaging, introduced predators.


Pest detection dog Hauraki Islands
"Vito" is a highly trained Argentine ant detection dog, who regularly checks the pest-free islands and marinas around Auckland

There’s a small cohort of canines that have become the guardians of these sanctuaries - the conservation dogs. The Department of Conservation and Auckland Council work together with man’s best friend to ensure these islands remain pest free.


It takes around 18 months of daily training for a dog to become certified for their target species. Individual dogs are specialised in certain predator scents, and they can smell out and raise the alarm to the presence of pests such as rodents, stoats, plague skinks and even the small but highly destructive Argentine ants!


Throughout the year, the conservation dogs head to the pest free islands to undertake surveillance checks. You may even see the teams at work around the marina, as they support biosecurity on the mainland. High up on their hit-list is Argentine Ants, which have been detected at a few marinas on the mainland.


It has been pointed out that boat owners also play a vital role, by acting as the first line of defence for pests trying to hitch a ride from the mainland. Please be on high alert – as these pests are tricky to spot. Argentine ants for example are only 2-3 mm in length and look similar, yet can be detected by their colour brown.


Boat owners can assist the dogs and handler teams with these actions:

  • Know the enemy – familiarise yourself with the pests: rodents, stoats, plague skinks, Argentine ants.

  • Use the trolleys provided to move gear from your vehicle to your boat.

  • Check that all gear is free of soil, seeds, and pests.

  • Clean all gear.

  • Close clean gear so nothing can crawl into it unknowingly.

  • Leave your pet dog and cat at home, they’re not allowed on Pest Free Islands.

  • If you discover any pest on your vessel, do not continue to a Pest Free Island – call 0800 DOC HOT, and we will assist you.

Thanks for helping to protect our world class island sanctuaries.


Two rodent detection dogs on a boat
Two certified rodent detection dogs and handlers checked the Mokohinau Islands and Rakitū Island in May – No rats to be seen!

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