Some countries have bears and wolves, others spiders and snakes. By contrast the most dangerous creature in New Zealand is the wasp.
You might think, ‘meh, that’s not so bad’. And in terms of becoming part of the food chain, you’re right. But that would also be to underestimate the problem wasps pose. Some parts of New Zealand contain the highest densities of the introduced German and common wasp found anywhere in the world. Just as with possums, rats and stoats, where there are wasps there are fewer native birds and insects.
But the impact of wasps goes beyond just being one more pest wiping out our already severely depleted native wildlife. Unlike other pests, wasps are unique in that they pose a direct threat to trampers who are regularly stumbling on to nests. Being stung once or twice can be a painful inconvenience, but being stung dozens of times can be lethal if emergency medical attention isn’t sought. The problem is so acute and the situation so dangerous that DOC won’t let its rangers work in some parts of Nelson Lakes National Park without carrying Epipens – the adrenalin-administering device. It’s not too dissimilar to parts of the United States where trampers are encouraged to carry pepper spray and attach bells to their packs to ward off bears.
Just how much of a problem wasps are becoming can be seen in Pat Barrett’s Off The Beaten Track story on p30. While walking in Nelson Lakes National Park his companions were stung by wasps. He mentions it in passing, but it illustrates how common wasp attacks are – they are, if not a daily experience, a regular and expected hazard of tramping.
But something is being done as we discover in our feature story on p36. Unfortunately, the only way to deal with wasps (at the moment) is by poison and we all know the contentiousness of the debate around using poison to control other unwanted pests in this country.
The question we will have to answer in coming months – DOC is set to launch a public awareness campaign about wasps this summer – is whether we can justify spreading another poison throughout our forests. If the science is as rigorous as that around the use of 1080, and its impact on other wildlife is similarly proved beyond doubt to be minimal or non-existent, then yes, we can.
In fact, we must.
– Alistair Hall