A carpentry project at the Otago Corrections Facility (OCF) in Milburn could have a big impact on preserving native wildlife.
About 1600 pest traps are being produced by OCF inmates to be used by the Department of Conservation (Doc) to trap rats and stoats in the Mackenzie Basin and other areas.
Carpentry instructor Mark O’Kane said the scheme was a win-win for both parties involved.
“It’s good to grow the partnership between the Department of Corrections and Doc .. and it keeps these guys busy,” he said.
He said the relationship has been in place for about three years, with batches of boxes being sent to the Twizel, Geraldine and Te Anau branches of Doc.
This set, for Twizel, was the biggest batch so far.
One inmate, who could not be named, said, “I’m quite new, but I’m loving it. I enjoy the fact that I’m giving back to the community, and saving the birds .. I’d like to go into this type of work.”
Mr O’Kane said the men had taken to the work enthusiastically.
“They come in here in the morning and we actually have to make them stop for lunch.”
He said it was not the only project the group had worked on for Doc, having also produced relocation boxes for takahe and other endangered species, and something called a “weta motel.”
“It’s a little thing they put in the bush and the wetas go inside, and breed, and then someone can come along and look inside and judge how many weta are in the area.”
Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage took a tour of the workshop to see the progress the men were making.
She said their efforts with the pest boxes were “really impressive.”
“They’ve all got bevelled edges, they’re really solid .. The offenders are making a real contribution.”
Mr O’Kane said the trap programme started with a request from Doc for only about a dozen boxes.
“Since then it’s just grown and grown and now we’ve become the go-to place to get the traps, which is what we were after in the first place.”
He said the project was part of a wider programme of carpentry and joinery taught at the prison, which enabled the inmates to learn a skill that would help to make them employable when they left.