Andrew Gorrie / Stuff
Ian Stringer with a placostylus snail and harmonic radar in 2002, which he used to locate snails and wētā in the bush.
Although the life forms he focused on were often tiny, a Kiwi zoologist’s contribution to their protection was massive.
Invertebrate zoologist and former Massey University lecturer Ian Stringer has been made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to conservation.
The scientist worked at Massey from 1974 to 2002, after which he became an invertebrate ecologist and honorary research associate in the Department of Conservation.
Speaking from Australia, where he was in isolation, recovering from Covid-19, Stringer said the Queen’s birthday honor had left him in disbelief.
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” I could not believe it. I felt a whole bunch of emotions when I discovered it. My first reaction was ‘why me’, but I’m also very happy to be recognized for the work I’ve been involved in.
He emphasized that he had been just one member of a team.
“These successes are those of the group. We were all in it together, so it’s not necessarily about me, it’s about ‘us’ or ‘us’.
Stringer’s most significant success was saving the wētā at the defenses of the Mercury Islands from extinction.
A rare species with conspicuous horns used to fight other males, their population had been in rapid decline.
“We found a male and two females, although one was sterile. Chris Winks, who is just exceptionally talented, has found a way to raise them in Auckland. We did an experimental trip to Double Island and Red Mercury Island.
“We found them to be sterile in captivity but the ones we released on these two islands were very successful.
“We had a recovery group with DOC with maybe five people watching what we were doing and approving the strategy.
“Rob Chappelle was the lead ranger at Mercury, and he really got into it. In the end, he and I ended up doing most of the work.
The wētā were relocated to six other islands in the Mercury Archipelago and were found to be thriving in population, considering the project a success.
Stringer said he was a nervous lecturer at first, but found his groove at Massey and became as much a student as a teacher.
“I tried to improve myself by attending other people’s lectures and picking up what I wanted to do and what not to do.
“Massey also allowed you to take one course a year, so I didn’t take them so much to learn, but to understand what it was like to be a student again.
“In an algebra class I took, the whole class stopped when I walked in. They couldn’t believe I was there as a student.”
Totally immersed in research and surrounded by people just as passionate about insects as he was, he looked back fondly on his decade at DOC.
Now retired, he recognized that there was still a lot of work to do and that Predator Free 2050 was an ambitious and important goal.
“If we could get rid of the parasites, that would be great. Everyone can participate in the elimination of rats and stoats.
“But how do you get rid of cats or hedgehogs? You have to get people on board and accompany them. »
Stringer still lives in Palmerston North and is writing a book about his experience rescuing wētā at the Mercury Islands defences.