‘Babysitting’ the next generation of New Zealand’s endangered sea lions

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(CNN) – Like many teenagers, Hannah Yardley, 17, who lives in Dunedin, New Zealand, does babysitting in her spare time. The only difference is that the baby she cares for is not a sea lion cub.

From December to February, during the breeding season and when newborns are most vulnerable, Yardley roams the white sands of Long Beach on her weekends and school holidays, examining sea lion families nesting in the area. She is a volunteer for the New Zealand Sea Lion Trust, an organization working to save endangered species.

Around the Otago Peninsula on the South Island of New Zealand, sea lions live on the cheeks with their human neighbors. Local residents are stepping in as “babysitters” to help keep the newborn safe.

Her favorite is the sea lion Zoe, a female the same age as her, with darker patches around her eyes and a distinctive scallop shape in her flipper.

“She’s just 17 years old,” says Yardley, whose birthday was in March. “It’s great to see her every year, and to go on that trip with her, (to see her) having babies.”

It has been a bumper year for marine lions on the Otago Peninsula, the finger of the land that clings to the Pacific Ocean from the suburbs of the city of Dunedin and is home to the largest marine lion population on mainland New Zealand, according to the country’s division. Defense. Twenty-one cubs were born, making it the most successful breeding season for an endangered species in nearly 200 years.

Sea lions return to mainland New Zealand after hunting near extinction.

Sea lions return to mainland New Zealand after hunting near extinction.

PAUL ELLIS / AFP by Getty Images

Babysitter Hanna Yardley hopes she can help increase the population by caring for New Zealand's sea lion cubs.

Babysitter Hanna Yardley hopes she can help increase the population by caring for New Zealand’s sea lion cubs.

Caitlin McGee / CNN

From commercial hunting that began in the early 19th century and continued into the mid-20th century, sea lions have grown along New Zealand’s shores, bringing animals closer to extinction. Remaining populations survived hundreds of miles south on sub-Antarctic islands such as the Auckland Islands and the Campbell Islands, where most breeding still takes place today.

Then, in the early 1990’s, a lone adventurous female returned to the mainland and gave birth to a cub on St. Clair Beach. She became known as “Mum” and Her statue Now sits proudly on the Esplanade above St. Clair.

Jim Fife, a biodiversity ranger in the coastal Otago district of New Zealand’s Department of Defense, says “this one female was responsible for bringing back the marine lion population to Otago.”

In the stroke of luck, the mother’s first three cubs were females, which gave the population a good start, FIFA explains. “By 2000, we had two or three cubs, then by 2010, six or eight cubs were being born, and in the last few years, we have had 18 to 20 cubs. It looks like we are so small. Exponential curve at the bottom of growth, ”he says.

But sea lions have returned to a very different habitat 200 years ago – roads, cars, motorbikes, humans, dogs and all sorts of potential threats are now fertile in the region. This presents huge challenges in keeping the population healthy and happy.

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Sea lions are foul-smelling neighbors

Adult males are eager to find shelter away from sea lions – which have weight Weighs up to 450 kilograms and are known to crush cubs when searching for mates – mothers often go to inland nests, but this only brings them closer to human hazards.

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They have been seen nesting in backyards, dog kennels, outbuildings and local golf courses, FIFE says, sometimes causing trouble with human neighbors. He remembers a young woman who slept under the house for about three months, until the owners got bored and kicked her out because “the house was a little smelly.”

He adds, “Their nighttime habit of coming in at two in the morning and putting up for their babies can make them an annoying neighbor,” he adds.

But for all their bad habits, sea lions are in deadly danger. This year, a three-month-old sea lion cub was killed by a vehicle on the Otago Peninsula Road, and motorcycle tracks were recently spotted next to the popular “nursery” area where many mother sea lions and their cubs settled.

The Department of Conservation and the New Zealand Sea Lion Trust, along with its army of “babysitters” such as Yardley, are trying to control these risks. The bodies take care of the females and their cubs, encircle the areas where they can nest, and put up warning signs for passersby and ask all dogs to be on the lead. Sometimes, if sea lions choose to nest in the open, Fyfe and his team will build a simple shelter to save the cubs, and last year, they Closed a road in Dunedin For a month to protect the sea lion family.

“It’s a turning point for the seasonal breeding cycle (sea lions),” says Fyfe. “We want people’s patience, it’s not a permanent thing.”

But as the marine lion population continues to grow, this personal service may become less viable. Instead, Fyfe hopes the technology will provide a solution. He was involved in A. Research projectPublished last year, which uses algorithm-based models and GIS mapping to identify critical habitats and can help Rangers prioritize areas for security.

“They really won’t bite you.”

After all, the simplest way to protect sea lions from human hazards is to educate people on how to respond to them.

“If people get too close to sea lions when they are active, sea lions have a bluff charge … and people turn on their heels and run away,” says Fifa. “Running is the wrong thing to do. They’re not really going to bite you – 99 out of 100 times they’ll stop and sniff you. So just try and stay calm and keep walking out of the area.”

Fyfe hopes that locals will get used to the presence of sea lions on their beaches and around their homes, they will learn to live together. “People don’t have to be afraid, they’re not aggressive animals,” he says. “They’re more playful and weird.”

Fortunately, raising awareness and interest in animals is not difficult. “They are their own best marketing tool, (because) overall, they are very beautiful,” he adds.

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