Hunting the jack

Every Saturday in cities and suburbs, small towns and remote country districts, greens are mowed and rolled, mats put out, coins tossed, bowls delivered, scores kept, tea made. Enjoyed in New Zealand by 91,000 players, bowls ranks in popularity ahead of rugby or cricket and is capturing a new generation.




Nov - Dec 2008

Mackenzie Country








The fight for Otaki

Both Darren Hughes and Nathan Guy were destined for a political career from a young age, one by family tradition, one by precocious ambition. They go head to head for a second time in Otaki, the closest-fought electorate in the last election and a revealing snapshot of the national outcome.


Pukeko Whisperer

You may have seen the ad featuring the pukeko stealing a peg, a shoelace from a shoe, paper from a waste basket, all of which it packs off to furnish its beachside nest. There’s also the one with the pair of pukeko chicks, so young they haven’t yet grown into their own feet, teetering after their mother into a house where the resi­dents have left a light on. This isn’t the sort of thing that pukekos normally do, but these are real birds trained by animal wrangler Mark Vette. Just about any animal to have appeared in a locally produced ad, television programme or film is likely to have been trained by Vette or one of his fellow trainers at Animals on Q. Star performers include Hercules (aka Toy­ota’s ‘bugger’ dog), the Gourmet cat, the National Bank’s horse (actually, there are two of them), Vero’s bull in the china shop, and the kea and the sea lion in the Speight’s ad. He trained wolves for The Chronicles of Narnia and, for the same movie, 50 mice to chew through ropes constraining Aslan. More recently, he trained kiore to do what they normally do, only on cue, for a BBC crew filming a natural history series on the South Pacific. It seems there isn’t an animal Vette can’t train. “Basically we do anything from but­terflies to elephants. “The trick is to establish yourself as dominant,” he says, going on to explain that like any social animal, pukekos have a natural hierarchy, and all you have to do is become the head bird. This usually requires controlling the resources. Food, most often. Training typically involves a whistle or a clicker, which is a bridge be­tween the desired action and the birdseed. Action. Click. Reward. Take that scene when the pukeko nicks the shoelace. “So what you do is you start to flick a shoelace in front of them, and as they go to touch it, you click, and flick them a reward. And then slowly you get them to grab it, hold it, carry it. And you click and reward, click and reward, until you just throw a shoelace at them and they’ll grab it and bring it to you.” Vette, a man with a quiet voice and dev­astatingly loud whistle, has had animals around him since he can remember. He trained his first dog, a German shepherd, when he was about five, having learned from his grandfather, who trained dogs for the military. There were the years spent as a boy in the States where, along with the usu­al rats and mice, he had pet tarantulas, pet snakes, gophers and a skunk. Later, back in New Zealand, he completed a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology, ecology and zoology and a master’s degree in be­havioural genetics, specifically focusing on sheep dogs. Now if he’s not training animals for film and television he’s working with animals with behavioural problems. Mostly, that means working with dogs with “excessive vocalisation” issues. When New Zealand Geographic visited Vette’s place in the countryside of Waim­auku, northwest of Auckland, there were dogs everywhere, all of them famous in their own way from one ad or another. But despite numerous visitors over a two-hour period, not one barked. Not once. “They’re pretty happy,” says Vette, rubbing the head of the border collie-cross sprawled at his feet. You get the impression that if all dogs could spend time with Vette, the average suburban neighbourhood would become a quieter, happier place. Asked whether he thinks animals have rational intelligence, he says they probably do, some more than others. You can see it in the way they hunt, such as when wild dogs work together to surround a wilde­beest. “You can even see that when puke­kos are catching a duckling. They’ll work as a team. “All animals are intelligent in relation to their ecology,” he says, noting that intelli­gence doesn’t necessarily mean trainability either; a cat is smart but a reluctant learner. A smart monkey can be taught to do tricks but will often defy its trainer. Most animals don’t have much foresight, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they lack insight. “On the whole most animals live for the present moment, and don’t dwell on the future. But I’m a Buddhist and our greatest aspiration is to live fully in the present moment. So you have to ask, what is intelligence?”

Science & Environment

A virus to cure a plague

It looks endearing but the rabbit’s voracious appetite means that, in some parts of the country, it is more destructive than any other intro­duced pest. Its resistance to environmental stress and its remarkable reproductive capacity makes it almost impossible to control.


The Last Dolphin

[caption id="attachment_15775" align="alignnone" width="1600"] Marineland’s success was built on a popular fascination for dolphins. In recent years, enthusiasm for circus-style entertainment has dwindled in favour of whale and dolphin watching ventures. Says Bill Dalton of Napier City Council: “You don’t sell tickets to the movies and ask the patrons to look at a blank screen. There is no option—when the last dolphin dies we do not have a viable entertainment spectacle, therefore we must close our doors to the public. It’s that bloody simple.”[/caption] [caption id="attachment_15772" align="alignnone" width="1600"] “These intelligent, charming creatures have kept people entertained for years with their delightful antics. In a world full of tragedy, disease, war, torture, poverty and natural disasters, we all need some harmless fun and light-hearted entertainment. It would be great if Marineland were to continue but this doesn’t look likely.” —Carol Doyle, letter to the editor, Dominion Post[/caption] [caption id="attachment_15776" align="alignnone" width="1600"] Marlborough is one of New Zealand’s sunniest and driest areas but it also has relatively “cool” climatic conditions, providing the grapes with a long, slow, flavour-intensifying ripening period. Marlborough is one of New Zealand’s sunniest and driest areas but it also has relatively “cool” climatic conditions, providing the grapes with a long, slow, flavour-intensifying ripening period.[/caption] Kelly’s death on 11th September signalled the end of an era that began when Napier’s Marineland opened its doors in January 1965. Back then Keith Holyoake presided over a population of 2.6 million, New Zealand troops were heading to Vietnam and Peter Snell was riding high on his recent wins at the Tokyo Olympics. Visitors swarmed to Marineland in those early years to see Daphne, the centre’s first dolphin, and her companions, adults paying three shillings and children one shilling for the pleasure. By the end of the first week, 8000 people had passed through the gates, and by the end of the first year, that figure had reached 220,000. Within five years (shortly after Queen Elizabeth II visited in 1970), the dolphins at Marineland had received their millionth visitor. For the manager, Gary Macdonald, and the staff at Marineland, Kelly was more than a performer; she was part of the family. When her long-time companion Shona (the second-to-last dolphin in captivity in New Zealand) died in April 2006, staff took it in turns to sit with Kelly, talking and playing with her. They had thought she’d be the first to go, but instead Kelly kept Marineland’s dolphin show afloat on her own, performing tricks and sharing her pool with visitors who paid to swim with her. On the days she wasn’t up to performing, the show went on with various understudies stepping in. But no matter how well her seal and sea lion stand-ins did, for many people there’s no show without the dolphins, a belief that sparked a 13,589-signature petition calling for the Government to finance replacement dolphins. A parliamentary select committee ruled against the proposal in May this year, citing scientific evidence of the detrimental effects of captivity on dolphin health. [caption id="attachment_15777" align="alignnone" width="400"] Marineland's Manager since 1977 Gary MacDonald plays with Kelly.[/caption] For the animal protection movement that day was a long time coming. A coalition of groups had mounted their own campaign after Shona died, calling on the Napier City Council to end “New Zealand’s captive dolphin industry”, claiming “the physical and psychological suffering of captive dolphins is immense”. This coalition believes New Zealand’s Marine Mammal Protection Act needs tightening and is lobbying the government to ban keeping cetaceans in captivity. From her capture in Tauranga Harbour in 1974 to her death this year in Marineland, the life of Kelly, the last dolphin in captivity, has spanned a period of philosophical change in New Zealand. In December 1974 there were other issues being debated on the airwaves and in tearooms up and down the country. Prime Minister Norman Kirk had spoken out against homosexuality, saying it was “unnatural”, police had raided a private abortion clinic in Auckland, and New Zealand’s attempts to end French nuclear testing at Mururoa Atoll were ongoing. Dolphins in captivity were yet to become a political issue. In the intervening years, animal rights groups have moved the issue into the public arena and attitudes towards keeping wild animals in captivity have changed. This is reflected in conservation policy, which makes it extremely difficult to hold marine mammals for our entertainment, and in Marineland’s visitor numbers, which have fallen in recent years, the bleachers sparsely peppered with spectators most days. Conversely, the dolphin and whale watching business has boomed since the 1980s, with more than 100 commercial tourism operators applying to DOC each year for permits. Our fascination with dolphins clearly hasn’t waned, but how and where we want to view them has changed. The future of Marineland and what part dolphins should play in it has sparked much comment, reminding us that while public opinion has moved on, it rarely speaks with a unified voice. It is up to the Napier City Council to decide what will happen to the marine park and its remaining inhabitants. Whatever its decision, one thing is certain: the era of performing dolphins is over.

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