Big opportunity, little interest: New Zealand struggles to fill dream job protecting wildlife | New Zealand

A NZ$90,000 salary, a helicopter commute, and a Unesco world heritage site as your playground. It sounds like a dream job. But despite the considerable perks, New Zealand’s Department of Conservation has been struggling to attract candidates to be their new biodiversity supervisor in Haast on the wild, remote coast of the South Island. Now, the region’s search is going global.

The job is based in Te Wāhipounamu – an area encompassing 26,000 square kilometers of mountain ranges, isolated beaches and native forests, classified as a Unesco World Heritage Area in 1990. Its mountain ranges formed the backdrop for the White Mountains/Ered Nimrais in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the Lord of the Rings.

The successful applicant will be put to work protecting newly discovered populations of the Haast tokoeka kiwi – as well as keeping tabs on local fur seal and lizard populations, predator control and monitoring the local songbirds. They will work across remote, rugged areas, many of which are accessible only by helicopter or jetboat.

The job advert calls the region an “extremely special place to live, surrounded by mountains and ocean, with endless activities for an outdoor enthusiast,” and a salary range of NZ$72,610 – $92,780. On Monday, however, the New Zealand Herald reported that the department’s call for applicants had failed to attract significant interest, with just three people inquiring so far.

Mount Aspiring national park, Part of Te Wahipounamu
Mount Aspiring national park, Part of Te Wahipounamu Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Wayne Costello, operations manager for DOC in South Westland, said the job was right for people who love spending time in nature, and are comfortable with a degree of isolation.

“It is working in one of the most amazing natural environments that the country has got to offer,” he told Stuff. “It’s just spectacular. But it is not for everyone. You’d have to be self-reliant and be able to work in the outdoors. If you’re interested in opera and theatre, it’s probably not for you.”

The Department of Conservation is not alone in struggling to attract workers to the area’s wild beauty. This month, the west coast’s regional development agency released a new campaign announcing it was “on a global hunt for new ‘coasters’”.

“We’re looking for people who are sick of the crowds, cars and commercialism of the city, and would prefer a bit more space,” Development West Coast chief executive Heath Milne said in a release.

Many west coast businesses and organizations were crying out for staff, Milne said – and the region was particularly hoping to attract healthcare workers, with 50 vacancies in aged care, primary care, ED, mental health and inpatient services. Across New Zealand, many sectors have reported chronic labor and skills shortages, as more New Zealanders head overseas after the pandemic, and immigration gradually recovers. Job ad site SEEK reported a 27% increase in job listings on the west coast over the past year.

“The Coast is a special place that attracts a special kind of person,” Milne said. “We’re on the hunt for a few more of them.”

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