A huge mouse eradication programme on New Zealand's remote Antipodes Islands has been completed well ahead of schedule thanks to several lucky breaks in the weather.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) has dropped the last of 65,000 kg of rodent bait on the sub-Antarctic island to eradicate 200,000 mice that threaten native species living there.
The helicopter work was expected to take all winter with a crew of 13 waiting for the right wind and weather in squally sub-Antarctic conditions. Breaks in the weather have allowed the project to be completed inside a month.
Conservation Minister Maggie Barry described the project as the "most challenging pest eradication ever carried out in New Zealand".
"[It] is a globally significant conservation achievement, safeguarding a unique, remote and forbidding land and the many extraordinary species living there," she says.
"To finish the second bait drop by mid-July is close to the best case scenario, and a major step on the way to returning Antipodes to the way it was before the arrival of humans, pests and weeds."
DOC project manager Stephen Horn says it's "hard to believe" the project ran so smoothly.
"The wind today was perfect, nice and calm for all the deflector work around the coast. The low cloud was toying with us for most of the morning. However, it started to clear and we got underway.
"We have done everything we can and now have to wait and see if we are successful with the monitoring in a couple of years' time."
Mice are the only predator on the island and threaten the habitat of endemic species like the Reischek's and Antipodes Island parakeets, snipe and pipit.
Crews will now start packing down the three helicopters and temporary hanger to travel the 760km back to Dunedin. The cargo ship Norfolk Guardian and 25 foot yacht Evohe will arrive in August.
DOC will not know whether the operation was successful until 2018. A single living pregnant mouse could render the entire $3.9 million dollar project a failure.