Thursday, 18 September 2014

I want to eat a weka

It's been more than five years since I first posted on Roger Beattie's felicitous "Eat them to save them" campaign. And I still am not allowed to buy a weka for dinner.

Roger is one of New Zealand's great enviropreneurs: the National Farming Review called him an Eco Anarchist. He loves the environment and sees the best way of saving it as ensuring that it's profitable to save it. Weka are endangered, but they're easily farmed and tasty. Why aren't we raising them for the restaurant trade and conserving an endangered species in the process? The Department of Conservation says no. They say no incredibly incoherently. But their "No" is what matters.

Roger features in Vice's "Munchies" column this week. Here's an excerpt.
How do you think we should be protecting endangered species?We need to change the legislation. We wonder why we’re losing 6 percent of our kiwi population per year. The Department is right in identifying the problem, but have the wrong solutions. A market solution is necessary. If private individuals want to do conservationist things, there should be no impediment. We farm native paua, plenty of people are propagating native trees—but certain native species can’t be farmed. No species that have ever been farmed have ever died out. Since man has been in New Zealand, we’ve lost 44 bird species because they were protected. If you’ve got the choice between something being protected and dying, and something being farmed and thriving, that’s not much of a choice.
What species do you want to farm first?In terms of sustainable farming, you have to have a species that is friendly and tasty. What I do know about is weka. Weka grow fast, they can be farmed with only a relatively small amount of capital, they eat a variety of food, and are cheap to grow and keep. We’ve bred hundreds of them and given them away. You’re not allowed to sell them without a permit. You’d end up in jail.
I'd love to see work on the economics of allowing the breeding and sale of jewelled geckos, or tuatara, for the pet trade.


  1. Cracking good read,.Eric.

    The failure to act well pre-dates EQC's 2008 briefing to the incoming government.

    MCDEM's briefing to the incoming government in 2002 basically said it was even chances a M8 earthquake would hit the South Island within 40 years. 40 years is well within the planning horizon for governments and councils. (And that quake is still due!)

    CCC had some years previously done the analysis on the engineering impacts of just such a quake. I am told the maps of the possible liquefaction zones drawn in the 1990's pretty much match what happened in 2011.

    And in 2004 the government amended the Building Act. In amongst all the over-reaction to leaky buildings stuff was a barely noticed clause requiring councils to start getting serious about earthquake prone buildings.

    I doubt you can apply pop psychology to institutions but it is tempting to compare the desire to be seen to be great after the event with the total complacency and lack of action beforehand.

  2. Had people expected, in 2002, that EQC would be called on to be a giant project management and assessment outfit in case of large scale disaster?

  3. I haven't followed EQC but it has been around for a long time previously as the Earthquake and War Damages Commission. It is inconceivable that it would not have been supposed to be prepared for disaster of this scale - larger, in fact. Our vulnerability to a major quake has been well-known for a very long time as has the fact that the Alpine Fault is 400 years overdue for a major rupture.

    Scale has been a problem though. I suspect that insurance company behaviours have been quite different in CHC compared to previous small scale events. Basically I suspect all organisations projected from their actual experience without taking into account the unique pressures of an event on a big scale.

  4. Trivia: After a bad spate of shipwrecks in The Auckland Islands in the 1860s, the government mulled introducing Weka to the islands as a food source. It was noted that they were (quoting from memory): 'prolific, easy to catch, tasty and nutritious.'

  5. Being prepared to write a lot of cheques to insurance companies is one thing. Being prepared to scale up to hire hundreds or thousands of competent insurance adjusters on zero notice, that's different.

  6. Farming wouldn't work for every endangered species, but it sure would for weka. That DoC bans it is ... troubling.

  7. To be fair to EQC I believe they knew what job they would have to do one day and that they had mapped out a general strategy. The problem is that there would have been a million details specific to this event that they have never been resourced to prepare for.