20 July 2018

Conservation Interview: Mark Paterson, Wildlife Programme Manager at Rainbow Springs

by Emma Mulder

Rainbow Springs caught up with its Wildlife Programme Manager Mark Paterson to ask what it’s like being an influential figure at one of New Zealand’s most famous nature parks. We wanted to get a glimpse into his daily activities on-site and what’s happening at the park. Here’s what he had to say.

What does a typical day at Rainbow Springs look like for you?

Morning
My day kicks off around 7am. I settle in at the office and prepare for the morning catch-up with the Rainbow Springs staff at 7.30am. The meeting gives us an opportunity to report on the previous day’s events as a group. This could involve bird training, animal health or individual projects running at the park.
A large part of my role is identifying new native species to introduce to Rainbow Springs. As opposed to purely bringing in native New Zealand animals for advocacy and having them in a cage and telling their story, we challenge ourselves to source species to breed for lease as part of the ongoing conservation pledges.
I’m currently working on 5-6 species projects right now and as you can imagine, because of the laws and legislation set by Department of Conservation NZ and local Iwi, the checks we make must be thorough and safe. My mornings are generally driven by the administrative aspects of communicating with these external parties.
At around 10am we start bird training at the park. This involves teaching Rainbow Springs staff how to work with different species for the exotic bird shows we put on, whilst training the birds to respond to commands and familiarise themselves with surroundings.

Mid-morning
I also visit each animal in the park to check for their wellbeing, specifically to know if they are in good health and injury-free. We want to ensure visitors to the park see that our animals are well cared for.
As part of our Captive Management Plan we review our conservation programs outlined for every animal and species at the nature park. My job is to see that all programs comply with regulations set out by NZCA. Sometimes the tracking of these advocacy plans, and compliance may happen in face-to-face meetings with my second in charge at Rainbow Springs. A Monday meeting will set the agenda for the week ahead.
Other meetings will be staggered throughout the day, both internally and with representatives from the likes of DoC. Topics can range from conservation in New Zealand to school holiday activities for local visitors and tourists.

Afternoon
After lunch spend more time training birds at the park, dedicating these sessions to those species which do not feature in free-flight bird shows.
By mid-afternoon all reptiles and bird at the park will have been fed, and I’ll be on top of this schedule. Following this we regroup to organise which areas need to be cleaned out for animal hygiene.
But at the same time, I will also see to various other ongoing projects involving relocation of animals and any irregular issues that need my attention.

What aspect of your job do you enjoy most?

I’m a big advocate of staff training and development, I make no secret about that. We see to it that everyone has the tools and knowledge to care for animals in the park, whether that’s through training manuals or first-hand engagement with our species.

What has been your favourite animal experience at Rainbow Springs?

We have a ruby macaw at Rainbow Springs who I’m particularly fond of. The animated film Rio based their main characters on his species. We were told he was untrainable when we first received him. But in less than 16 weeks he was one of the family and fully trained up. That was an awesome experience working with him day-by-day.
To put that into perspective, it can take up to one year to train an exotic bird. I trained 13 birds in one year during my first 12 months at Rainbow Springs.

When did you realise you wanted to work with animals?

I’ve had a strong desire to work with animals and wildlife from a very early age. Nothing else even came to mind as a career option. I was that weird kid in the street who would care for birds that were injured! And now having that opportunity to oversee conservation for fauna and flora in NZ makes me a very happy man. I’ve been at Rainbow Springs for around 17 years and enjoy each day and the challenges it brings.

What can we do more of to care for New Zealand conservation?

Firstly, I can’t stress enough the importance of looking after domestic pets outside of the home. Make sure they do not pose a threat to the wildlife around them by doing simple things like keeping cats indoors overnight and taking dogs on a leash when entering known wildlife habitats.
It’s also critical to be mindful of our everyday habits that can lead to pollution and destroy conservation, and this can be as straightforward as recycling, keeping rubbish on you instead of dropping it outside, or not flinging a cigarette butt out of a car window.

For more information on what goes on behind the scenes at Rainbow Springs check out our events and day planner information on the main website.