‘42-year-holiday’ earns honour

James Pocock






A Hawke’s Bay wildlife conservationist has learned to check before discarding every email telling you that you’ve won something — it could be your New Year honour. Wildlife conservationist Hans Rook has been made amember of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to conservation. He said he nearly deleted the email informing him of the accolade because he thought it may have been a scam. “I was a bit taken aback too when it first arrived, I wasn’t too sure, I thought, ‘ Gee, this has got to be a hoax!”’ When he realised it was the real deal, he said he felt humbled. Rook worked with the New Zealand Wildlife Service and Department of Conservation for 42 years until he retired in 2014, although that hasn’t stopped him continuing to volunteer. He has overseen the removal of 39 sperm whale jawbones and worked to return them to iwi and has prepared a 20m blue whale skeleton for Te Papa and two complete sperm whale skeletons for Te Papa Tongarewa collection and the Tohara¯ exhibition. Rook has also worked in his own time since 2011 to restore 21ha of wetland in the Ahuriri Estuary as habitat for the endangered matuku hūrepo, or Australasian bittern. “It was more than a job, it was a career, a religion, the whole thing rolled into one. It was never work, I had a 42-year holiday.” As well as continuing his work, Rook is spending his retirement mentoring others to pass on his knowledge as others did for him. He has shared techniques for humanely ending the suffering of stranded whales unable to be refloated, advised on how to prepare and preserve bird pelts and feathers, and tutored in early trials of a Māori youth in conservation programme. “I really enjoy passing on a lot of knowledge I’ve got to a lot of our younger people today to help them get runs on the board, you give them the confidence to succeed.”