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Pests Will Be Eaten28.01.2008

Tags: New Zealand       Comments: 0

On the remote South Island of New Zealand German researchers are hatching ingenious and simple solutions to make the world a better place and Louis Palmer is worrying about New Zealand’s native animals, which are falling prey to invaders.

We arrived in Dunedin in New Zealand’s south, by conventional means of transport. Thomas Bley, Head of Design Studies at the University of Otago, had heard of us though SPIEGEL ONLINE and invited us to come and see him. He wants to develop a zero-emission vehicle just wide enough to pass between lanes of traffic, thus avoiding traffic jams in the world’s major cities. He calls his unconventional concept the "horse’s rump” because "It’s only allowed to be that wide. 72.5 centimeters exactly."


The initial sketches show his vehicle’s potential applications, as a parcel delivery vehicle, people transporter or an ambulance. I’m amazed at the range of ideas around and at how simple it could be to solve problems and change ingrained ways of thinking. Do unconventional places perhaps produce unconventional ideas?

Next morning we go out while it’s still dark with Thomas Bley and his colleague Chris Ebbert to a penguin colony, leaving the road and rolling down to the beach. Suddenly we see an animal in the car’s headlights. It’s grey and about the size of a raccoon. Chris explains: "A possum! New Zealand’s number one pest. God knows why anyone ever brought them here from Australia. They’re not only eating some plants to the brink of extinction, they also eat the penguin eggs."

Himalayan Goats, European Elk

Nobody knows how to get rid of these pests. The government pays hunters ten New Zealand dollars (5 Euros) per pelt for them. Experiments with genetic engineering and with poison seem promising, but the poison is also poisonous to people, but I suppose it’s a start. They need to kill 60 to 80 million of them.

The possum is not the only introduced pest. Weasels, hedgehogs, martens, rats and rabbits are also everywhere and Himalayan mountain goats are as much at home in the New Zealand Alps as chamois, wapiti and red deer are. Some also say that some elk let loose almost 200 years ago are still alive in the southern fjord country, although nobody’s seen one for 100 years, which is good news.
We walk through the sand dunes to the penguins in a strong wind and Chris tells me about the project he’s working on at the moment: a house with two wind turbines that directly drive two compressors, which fill a pressure tank with air. "The compressed air can power a generator to provide a house with electricity!" His compressed air energy storage unit, simple as it is ingenious, might be an energy storage solution for the future, because there’s always a wind.

Our visit to the penguins is "wicked and awesome". Didn’t understand that? Doesn’t matter! Even the English sometimes find it hard to understand ‘Kiwi English’.

There are now just around 3,000 of the once plentiful Yellow-Eyed Penguins left throughout the world and about 60 of them live here. As day dawns, we film them waddling down to the sea, where sea lions lie in wait for them. They usually make it into the sea, unless they end up as breakfast for a fox first, because foxes are everywhere here too.

A Plateful of Possum?

I gaze out to sea and am reminded where the Solar Taxi is right now, namely at sea, on its way to Sydney. It’s cleaner than it’s been in a long time too, after its official cleaning by government officials using a high-pressure steam cleaner to ensure that we don’t bring any mosquito larvae from New Zealand into Australia.


I travel on through the New Zealand Alps, still thinking about ways to save native animals. Maybe Tim, a young cook in a restaurant, has the solution. He tells me that "game" is the hit “flavor of the month’. He’ll serve up whatever the local hunters can put a bullet through, whether it’s wild boar, deer, rabbit, even possum! I do a quick calculation. If every New Zealander ate 20 possums a year, they’d be gone in just one year. My eyes light up just thinking about it. Tim asks me whether I’d like to try possum. What an idea! Hmm, might not be such a great plan after all...


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