Rugby great joins bird fight

Written By : JONATHAN BRYCE. There comes a time when a person has to changes in his or her life for one reason or another. For former All Blacks rugby
11 Jul 2008 12:00

image Written By : JONATHAN BRYCE. There comes a time when a person has to changes in his or her life for one reason or another. For former All Blacks rugby skipper Anton Oliver, that time came when he left behind his days as one of New Zealand’s renowned rugby player and embraced his new one as a student at the prestigious University of Oxford. In this new life outside the rugby world, Mr Oliver has taken on the task of becoming one of the advocates for a non-government organisation called Birdlife International which is working within many of the islands here in Fiji. Mr Oliver has helped this organisation in their challenge to help preserve the many nesting sites of indigenous seabirds.
One of the main objectives of this organisation is to eradicate a key threat to indigenous birds’ survival; the common island rats. For the past two years, this organisation has been conducting a rat control program using poison baits to decrease their overpopulated numbers. The islands that the Birdlife Organisation concentrated on were the Ringgold Islands which are located between approximately 60 and 100 kilometres north east of Taveuni. These islands where Mr Oliver and his colleagues visited and worked on were the Qelelevu Islands, Vetaua Island, Nukubasaga Island and Nukusemanu Island. Mr Steve Cramwell who worked alongside Mr Oliver spoke on the work they did and the research they had done beforehand in order to make certain the poison baits would mostly affect the rats and have almost no effect on the rest of the surrounding environment.
Mr Oliver spoke on his new life as an active member of the Birdlife Organisation. “I became disillusioned with rugby over the last two years. I achieved about half of the goals I wanted to in playing this sport, but because of my commitments to it, I couldn’t always fulfil my personal interests. I always wanted to be an environmental advocate, instead of an activist. I wanted to work in conservation and when I applied to the Oxford University, my course paper was partly taught and part research.” said Mr Oliver. The work done at Birdlife is part of the University coursework for the former All Blacks player. A major aim of this organisation has been to identify the importance of bird breeding to the various countries of the world. “The problem with rats is that they are predators and they are always preying on eggs and young chicks” said Mr Cramwell. Mr Oliver had been present to help out with the well planned preparation by the Birdlife organisation to distribute the poison bait and cause the eradication of the rats. “We had a very detailed process of planning and we applied these special baits, but we had to know of any other species on the island that might get affected from the eradication of the rats. We didn’t want to disturb the island’s ecological balance” said Mr Cramwell.
The poison baits came in the form of pallets. A great deal of advanced technological equipment was used in the distribution and work they did in getting the poison baits out into the specified areas. The weather was one of the main factors that affected their operation, but in the end they considered their work a success. “The people of the island were very cooperative, we properly informed them of the effects the poison would have on the rats and we made sure they agreed that if this operation took place, that they would not eat crabs for the next several months because of the effect it would have on the island’s crabs” said Mr Cramwell. “The bait is safe to use, but we still use it with caution. We needed a period of one year to eighteen months to get the results. We also feel the need to beware of how rats can get onto the island by coming off ships that visit the islands.”
Mr Oliver said he appreciates the time he has in working with the birdlife crew and organisation and spoke on the reactions of the island people on their contribution. “We got to experience talking to the people living in those islands and they were so happy that we had gotten rid of the rats. The rats were such a negative factor on their lives and on the survival of birds on the islands.”
Even though he may not be an All Blacks rugby player anymore, Anton Oliver is proud of his new life in this environmental sector as he and the Birdlife International strive on to protect the many beautiful birds of our islands.

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