Title: Exotic Intruders

Author: Joan Druett

Publication details: Heinemann, 1983, Auckland

Digital publication kindly authorised by: Joan Druett

Part of: New Zealand Texts Collection

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Exotic Intruders

The Auckland Acclimatisation Society

page 97

The Auckland Acclimatisation Society

The Auckland Acclimatisation Society was formed in 1867, and its district remains the largest acclimatisation district in New Zealand even though it lost the Hot Lakes area to the Government in 1905: today it extends from Rodney in the north to West Taupo in the south. In its first year it cost an interested citizen five shillings a year to join the new Society, or, if that citizen was one of the landed wealthy, he could buy a life membership for five pounds.

The Society's first project was to throw itself energetically into the importation of birds; in its first year it introduced game birds, emus, starlings, yellow hammers, skylarks, hedge sparrows, grey linnets, goldfinches and green finches, sparrows, blackbirds, thrushes, magpies, doves, pigeons, and, rather mysteriously, seagulls. It housed these birds in the large aviary it built on the Domain grounds, and in the next few years continued this ambitious programme, stopping only to complain about the mysterious character with gourmet tastes who was robbing the nests for delicacies in the middle of the night. The Society had some success with game birds, managing to acclimatise pheasants very rapidly.

It was regarded with affection by Sir George Grey, an eminent acclimatisator himself. He introduced two zebras to the region; other benefactors gave the Society sambur deer, wapiti, bandicoots, kangaroos, wallabies, opossums and monkeys. Like other societies, the Auckland Society paid bonuses to people who brought in tokens to show that they had killed hawks, shags, and other 'vermin'.

The Society was also interested in aquatic life, to the extent of importing Russian Carp and Australian frogs—extremely interested, in the case of frogs, as they kept on importing and liberating them until they were thriving throughout the swampy areas of the district. In 1872 the Society imported salmon ova and black and silver bass. In 1875 it received a shipment of 20 000 quinnat salmon ova which was supposed to go to the Hawkes Bay Society, but which was too ripe to transfer to its destination. The Society was fortunate in having a fish hatchery and ponds at the Domain, and in 1870 it received a batch of brown trout ova, donated by the Tasmanian Society. Much of this shipment had gone bad, but enough survived to make the building of the ponds and hatchery worthwhile. The climax of the Society's introduction of fish arrived in 1883, when they hatched out the first rainbow trout in New Zealand.

Today the Society is deeply involved in breeding and liberation of the Red-legged Partridge, as a future upland game bird in association with pheasant and quail. It is also conducting major research into usage of the Whangamarino Swamp area, to establish bird population numbers and vegetation distribution as well as recreational usage. With other societies, the Auckland Society is participating in a national angling survey, conducted by the Fisheries Research Division. The Society is also active in promoting certain exotic trees, including willow oak, Osage orange, and various cherry species.

There is a certain symmetry in the Society's history. In 1874, not long after its inception, its patron was Sir James Fergusson. Nearly a hundred years later, in 1967, at the Society's centennial, its patron was Sir Bernard Fergusson, another Governor-General and a grandson of the first.