Squawk Squad is the social enterprise using modern technology to not only make predator traps more effective but keep its wider community of donors connected with its work.
Every year, a massive 25 million native birds are said to be killed by pests, leaving many of our most beloved species – the takahē, kākāpō, and yellow-eyed penguin – in a nationally critical or endangered state. When it comes to our most iconic bird, the Department of Conservation (DOC) estimates that the number of kiwis declines by 2% every year, leaving just two more generations before the flightless bird disappears completely from the wild.
Predatory mammals like stoats, possums and rats are said to be the key culprits to this demise, which is why in 2016, the government announced its most ambitious conservation goal to date – to make New Zealand predator-free by the year 2050. Since then, a number of local community and business-led initiatives have emerged in support of this goal, one of which includes Squawk Squad – the social enterprise using modern technology to not only make predator traps more effective but keep the wider community connected with its work.
Having started back in 2016, Squawk Squad took its first tentative steps when founders Fraser McConnell and Alex Hannon won the social enterprise category at Startup Weekend Auckland. At the time, McConnell was working as an analyst for PwC while Hannon was working (and continues to work) as an engineer for Rocket Lab USA. The pair met while studying at the University of Canterbury and, together with a group of friends, decided they “wanted to do something that wasn’t just about the money.”
Around a year later in December 2017, Squawk Squad had its official launch. It was largely funded off the back of a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised just over $70,000 from more than 600 backers.
“We’re big on being more purpose driven rather than just profit driven…and often we don’t have the opportunity to give back to [New Zealand] in a big way. I guess this is our chance to give back to Aotearoa and help out our unique wildlife,” says McConnell, who spends the other half of his time running fintech company Choice – the social enterprise that allows consumers to turn their transactions fees to merchants into support for charities instead.
Currently active in sanctuaries across both the North and South Island, Squawk Squad works by enabling people to contribute to the cost of a state-of-the-art predator trap designed by Wellington-based pest-control company GoodNature. One trap costs $365, but through the Squawk Squad platform, the cost is divided into bite-size pieces so people can contribute $20, $40 or even $185 to be part of the ‘squad’ protecting New Zealand’s native species.
Once the trap is fully funded and in use, funders can then use the Squawk Squad app to see where their trap is deployed in the sanctuary. They’ll also receive a real-time notification every time their trap activates thanks to a sensor node designed by Auckland-based tech company Encounter Solutions. “That way, every time their trap catches something, they feel part of it and they know exactly how their trap performs over time,” says McConnell, who adds that while 85% of donor funds goes “back into the conservation field for hardware and operations”, the remaining 15% goes towards running Squawk Squad, which is run by a mix of employees and volunteers working in the startup and tech scene.
Unlike conventional predator traps which can be high-maintenance and inefficient, Squawk Squad’s traps are gas-powered for 24 shots without any re-setting needed, hence the high price point. While a traditional trap needs to be checked every week to see whether or not it’s been triggered, the sanctuaries can leave the funded traps for up to 6 months, saving workers from hundreds of hours of unnecessary labour. The traps also have the benefit of providing real-time, live data (date, time, temperature etc.) which replaces the more time-consuming pencil-to-paper approach.
To date, Squawk Squad currently boasts three fully funded sanctuaries across New Zealand. It’s first sanctuary was Ark in the Park, a volunteer based project in the Waitakare Ranges aimed at protecting reintroduced kokako. The project brought in more than $22,000 in funding for a total of 60 traps. So far, it’s caught almost 450 pests since launching at the end of last year.
“We’d love to have six or more conservation projects [fully funded by the end of the year],” says McConnell. “At the moment we’re at three and we’ve got two more in the pipeline, so we’re funding for our fourth at the moment. There’s going to be a big push during Conservation Week this year (September), which should be exciting.”
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