Predator Trapping ‘By the Moon’ – The Influence of Maramataka - Cam Speedy

Cam Speedy – Wildlife Management Associates Ltd, TURANGI

Do you plant and harvest your vege garden by the moon?  Do you fish by the moon?  Many people do, and those of us that do, recognise the positive influence that following the rhythms of nature can have on our outcomes.  You won’t be surprised then, to know it’s the same with trapping predators!   

As a professional ecologist and life-long hunter-gatherer, I have watched the patterns in nature all my life, as indigenous cultures have done for eons.  Māori culture has, over centuries in Aotearoa New Zealand, developed a detailed understanding of what they call the ‘Maramataka’ – the lunar calendar or cycle.  They have always applied it to their Māra (gardens); to fishing and eeling; to bird hunting; to their health & well-being; and even in their social interactions.  The power of the moon on all life forms is immense – even for human behaviour.  Ask any police officer, ED staff or aged care worker – the full moon (Te Rakaunui) is a busy time each month.  Such observations have spawned many human myths and legends - from weir-wolves to vampires, as a result.    

Māori divide the Maramataka up into four recognisable phases: New Moon - Whiro phase (lowest activity); Waxing Moon - Tamatea phase (unpredictable); Full Moon - Rakaunui phase (highest energy); and Waning Moon - Tangaroa phase (most productive). 

As a hunter, I have always recognised similar distinct patterns when night shooting.  Sometimes there is just nothing doing; other times there are critters there, but they are very shy, or just too fast.  Sometimes, it’s simply all on – critters everywhere, that hold in the light. It is the same with fishing – fishing is more productive at ‘bite time’ – when the moon is directly above, especially when that happens at dawn (Tangaroa phase) or dusk (Tamatea phase).  Deer are also more active at ‘bite time’.  With over 40 ‘deer roars’ under my belt, I now plan my roar trips to coincide with the end of the third lunar quarter (start of the Tangaroa phase) – when hind cycling and stag activity is much higher – and I make sure I’m looking over hot-spots at ‘bite time’.  

As I started applying ‘Maramataka’ principles to my predator trapping, my diary notes started to speak for themselves – traps serviced so baits/scuffs/lures were fresh for the ‘Tangaroa’ moon-phase (7 to 12 days after full moon) out-performed other traps.

Many of us fit trap checking into busy lives and schedules.  We can only get to our allocated trap lines in our community predator-free projects once every few weeks.  When we do, we often find that the dead pests are pretty manky – they are mostly caught within a few days/nights of the last trap service when baits are fresh; scuffs beside the trap haven’t been rained on and are still ‘interesting’ to the target species; and the lures used are still highly attractive.  

What I have found, consistently, is that traps serviced a day or two BEFORE the Tangaroa phase catch more pests.  It’s a fact.  If you also start to layer in weather influences (most critters stay home during cold, wet stormy periods, to re-emerge once the weather fronts clear); take note of and follow wider seasonal patterns in animal behaviour (eg., mating, breeding and dispersal); and understand seasonal diet changes, you will transform your trapping success.

A good example of this more wholistic, connected-to-nature approach is what I call “possum night clubs”.  Possums have a major mating period in March each year.  If you start regularly pre-feeding pending control sites during the Tamatea (Waxing) Moon phase in mid to late February, for two weeks through the high energy Full Moon phase, you will set up an incredible social communication system within your local possum population.  Sites on ridges or spurs will allow sound and scent to travel more widely across the landscape.  The number of possums coming each night increases almost exponentially as interacting possums travel to and from the site daily, leaving scent trails, scats, food cues, pheromones, and game trails to your pending control site.  After two weeks, as the Tangaroa Moon phase rolls around in early to mid-March, you will be ready to set multiple traps, night shoot (with thermals) or lay toxins and remove large numbers of possums from a significant landscape around each site.  How worn the game trails to your sites are, will indicate just how much possum activity there is at each.  The results (in terms of numbers) will depend on possum density but for low density populations, getting them to follow each other to you is actually way less effort than trying to track each one down – individually.  Social interaction, at the right time of year, using the right activity levels (governed by moon-phase), makes it easy.  

To help understand the application of applying these powerful principles relating to the cycles and seasonal rhythms of nature, I have developed the attached graphic.  This approach has helped me put the animal I am targeting at the centre of my thinking:  What is it doing, when and why?  Most importantly, this makes me focus on how I can best use this understanding to maximise my contribution to protecting my local environment.   

This is an ancient approach proven and used by indigenous cultures around the world – forever. It is about a deeper connection and understanding to the environments we love.  And that is a powerful thing – on so many levels. Predator trapping by the moon – it’s a game changer!

These two websites will help you navigate the exact timing of the Maramataka:

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