'Babysitting' the next generation of New Zealand's endangered sea lions

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(CNN) — Like galore teenagers, Hannah Yeardley, a 17-year-old surviving successful Dunedin, New Zealand, babysits successful her spare time. The lone quality is that it's not children she's looking after, it's oversea lion pups.

From December done February, during the breeding play and portion the newborns are astatine their astir vulnerable, Yeardley wanders down the achromatic sands of Long Beach connected her weekends and schoolhouse holidays, checking successful connected oversea lion families nesting successful the area. She's volunteering for the New Zealand Sea Lion Trust, an enactment moving to support the endangered species.

Around the Otago peninsula connected New Zealand's southbound island, oversea lions are surviving feature by jowl with their quality neighbors. Local residents are stepping successful arsenic "babysitters" to assistance support the newborn pups safe.

Her favourite oversea lion is Zoe, a pistillate of astir the aforesaid property arsenic her, with a acheronian spot astir the eyes and a distinctive scallop signifier successful her flipper.

"She's conscionable turned 17," says Yeardley, whose day was successful March. "It's precise chill seeing her each year, and going connected that travel with her, (watching her) having pups."

It has been a bumper twelvemonth for oversea lions connected the Otago Peninsula, a digit of onshore that sticks retired from the metropolis suburbs of Dunedin into the Pacific Ocean and is location to the biggest oversea lion colonisation connected mainland New Zealand, according to the country's Department of Conservation. Twenty-one pups were born, making it the astir palmy breeding play for the endangered taxon successful astir 200 years.

Sea lions are returning to New Zealand's mainland aft  being hunted to adjacent   extinction.

Sea lions are returning to New Zealand's mainland aft being hunted to adjacent extinction.

PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images

Babysitter Hannah Yeardley hopes that by looking aft  New Zealand oversea  lion pups she tin  assistance   the colonisation  grow.

Babysitter Hannah Yeardley hopes that by looking aft New Zealand oversea lion pups she tin assistance the colonisation grow.

Caitlin McGee/CNN

Sea lions flourished on New Zealand's coasts until commercialized hunting, which began successful the aboriginal 19th period and continued done to the mid 20th century, brought the animals adjacent to extinction. Remnant populations survived hundreds of miles southbound connected sub-Antarctic islands, specified arsenic the Auckland Islands and Campbell Island, wherever the bulk of breeding inactive occurs today.

Then, successful the aboriginal 1990s, a lone adventurous pistillate ventured backmost to the mainland and gave commencement to a pup connected St Clair beach. She became known arsenic "Mum" and a statue of her present sits proudly connected the esplanade supra St Clair.

"This 1 pistillate was liable for bringing backmost a colonisation of oversea lions to Otago," says Jim Fyfe, biodiversity ranger for the coastal Otago territory of New Zealand's Department of Conservation.

In a changeable of luck, Mum's archetypal 3 pups were female, which got the colonisation disconnected to a bully start, explains Fyfe. "By 2000, we were having 2 oregon 3 pups being born, past by 2010, six to 8 pups were being born, and successful the past fewer years, we've had 18 to 20. It feels similar we're connected that small exponential curve astatine the bottommost of colonisation growth," helium says.

But oversea lions person returned to a precise antithetic situation to that of 200 years agone -- roads, cars, motorbikes, humans, dogs and each sorts of imaginable hazards are present prolific successful the region. This presents immense challenges successful keeping the colonisation steadfast and happy.

Sea lions are smelly neighbors

Eager to find a structure distant from big antheral oversea lions -- which weigh up to a hefty 450 kilograms and person been known to trample pups portion connected the hunt for a mate -- mothers often caput inland to nest, but this lone brings them person to quality threats.

They've been recovered nesting successful backyards, canine kennels, outbuildings and the section play course, says Fyfe, sometimes causing occupation with quality neighbors. He recalls 1 young pistillate that spent astir 3 months sleeping nether a house, until the owners got fed up and evicted her due to the fact that "the location got a spot smelly."

"Their night-time habits of coming successful astatine 2 o'clock successful the greeting and mooing for their pups tin marque them an annoying neighbor," helium adds.

But for each their atrocious habits, oversea lions are the ones successful mortal danger. This year, a three-month-old oversea lion pup was struck and killed by a conveyance connected an Otago Peninsula road, and motorcycle tracks were precocious spotted beside a fashionable "nursery" country wherever galore parent oversea lions and their pups person settled.

The Department of Conservation and the New Zealand Sea Lion Trust, with its service of "babysitters" specified arsenic Yeardley, effort to negociate these threats. The organizations support way of females and their pups, cordoning disconnected areas wherever they mightiness beryllium nesting, and putting up signs informing passersby and asking for each dogs to beryllium kept connected a lead. Sometimes, if oversea lions person chosen to nest successful an exposed area, Fyfe and his squad volition make a elemental structure to assistance support the pups, and past year, they closed a roadworthy successful Dunedin for a period to support a oversea lion household safe.

"The seasonal breeding rhythm is simply a captious constituent for (the oversea lions)" says Fyfe. "We inquire for people's patience, it's not a imperishable thing."

But arsenic the oversea lion colonisation continues to grow, this personalized work whitethorn go little viable. Instead, Fyfe hopes exertion volition supply a solution. He was progressive successful a research project, published past year, that uses algorithm-based models and GIS mapping to place captious situation and could assistance rangers prioritize areas for protection.

"They're not really going to wound you"

Ultimately, 1 of the simplest solutions for protecting oversea lions from quality threats is educating radical connected however to respond to them.

"If radical get excessively adjacent to oversea lions erstwhile they're active, the oversea lions person a bluff complaint ... and radical thin to benignant of crook connected their heels and tally away," says Fyfe. "Running is the incorrect happening to do. They're not really going to wound you -- 99 times retired of 100 they would halt and sniff you. So conscionable effort and enactment calm and support walking retired of the area."

Fyfe hopes that arsenic locals get utilized to the beingness of oversea lions connected their beaches and astir their homes, they volition larn to coexist. "People don't request to beryllium afraid, they're not an assertive animal," helium says. "They're much playful and curious."

Fortunately, raising consciousness and involvement successful the carnal is not hard. "They're their ain champion selling tool, (because) connected the whole, they're ace cute," helium adds.

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