Celebrating Conservation Week 2016
Friday, September 16th, 2016
Conservation Week is an important time to understand the value of our environment, enjoy the connection we share with the land, flora and fauna which surround us and consider how we can preserve these treasures for generations to come. The Waiouru Military Camp is situated within the wild terrain of the Central North Island, a unique environment home to diverse land formations, animals and plant species. Waiouru Military Training Facility Commandant Major Pat Hibbs was kind enough to share some of his thoughts on the values of conservation within the New Zealand Army’s largest military training area and why he feels it is so important to protect.
Can you tell us a little bit about the Waiouru Military Training Area (WMTA) in general?
The WMTA is 63,000 hectares or approximately 152,500 acres. It consists of a number of quite distinct land forms at altitudes of 700 to 1483 metres. There are extensive areas of volcanic desert, alpine beach forest and red tussock. The swamp lands to the south act as food sources for tangata whenua and the mountain swamps are home to numerous tarns. There are species of rare, indigenous plants which are only found here and in North Canterbury.
Why do you think conservation is important for the WMTA?
Conservation helps the Army to preserve the special nature of the area. We aim to minimise our impact on the ground and only manage introduced species to ensure native species thrive as much as possible. Pest control also helps in fostering the good relationships we share with neighbouring farms and properties.
How do you care for the rare and native plant species within the area?
Any areas identified by DOC are marked on our maps and access to these locations is restricted. We do not impact artillery or drive off tracks in these locations. The Kaimanawa Horse Management Plan is a conservational strategy which aims to find a balance between protecting both the horses and the plants.
The area is home to a large number of Kaimanawa horses. How has the population developed as a result of conservational efforts to improve their well-being?
At the moment there are around 300-400 Kaimanawa horses within the WMTA. In the almost 50 years since I first saw the horses their physical condition has improved out of sight. At one time their numbers exceeded 2000 and the land just could not support them. They looked sway backed, shagged and bloated. The herd is now very healthy, the animals look bigger and individual stallions can be seen in the off spring. The horses are quite colourful with roans, greys, blacks and browns spread around the area.
Working so closely with the horses, do you have any first-hand experiences that you’d like to share?
I have an old stallion that I take an interest in. He was branded in 1997 so is at least 20 years old. He first came to my attention some 5 or 6 years ago as he appeared to have suffered a major shoulder dislocation. We checked on him every few days and it didn’t seem to affect his ability to forage for himself so he has survived. He seems to be looked after by the other horses and is often accompanied by two in particular. As he doesn’t move that freely, it is possible to quietly walk up to within a few metres of him. If you sit still, he will continue feeding with just a wary eye on you. Often it feels like two old fellas sharing time.
What importance does the WMTA environment hold for you personally?
The WMTA is where I, like thousands of others started my career. Standing in a trench at night doing sentry whilst the temperature drops well below zero, you cannot help but learn how to stay warm, how to learn to observe and even be fascinated by the night sky. I have been taught so much by the land and had so many growth experiences here that I feel a part of it. Growing older and journeying through the scenic beauty of the landscape time and time again, this sentiment has only become stronger and I think this is why I readily accept the need to protect it.
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