Our People – Meet the Team Leaders

Damian Clarke

Operations Manager 

I am 49 years old and I’ve been married for 22 years to my wife Iessa.  I have three sons aged 15, 20 and 22 years, and one grandson who is 18 months old (pictured above!).  
I’m originally from Waiheke Island in the Hauraki Gulf, but I now live in Rotorua. I love the outdoors and spend most of my spare time on my mountain bike. Although I also like walking, hiking and running.

In my last role, I was the Trails Manager for the Rotorua Trails Trust for three years, and before that I worked in various roles in Information Technology (IT) for 20 years.  My first taste of conservation work was as a volunteer trapper for the Predator Free Waiheke team, and I love working with volunteer organisations because the work is real and the people are passionate. Volunteer organisations make a difference and as a result, the work is very satisfying.  I also love a combination of ‘indoor’ and ‘outdoor’ work, and I’m looking forward to learning a new industry and developing relationships with all our partners. 

Gaye Payze

Pest Control Team Leader 

In my role as Pest Control Team Leader, I work closely with Lydia, our Volunteer and Events Coordinator to manage and support the trappers and the ‘Bring Back the Birds’ volunteers (who fill bait stations along the Ōhope escarpment).  I also lead the planning for wasp monitoring and control and the use of PAPP to control stoats, including preparing any consent documents required for the toxin operations.  We also undertake quarterly rodent monitoring in the reserves and I am involved in helping the Whakatāne Kiwi Trust meet its health and safety obligations. 

The focus on pests is both satisfying and challenging… Satisfying to work with such committed volunteers who are keen to see pest populations reduced and the birds & bush thrive….Challenging to find ways to reduce trap shyness and combat stoat re-invasion.

Sue and Ken Laurent

Sue – Chick Pingers Team Leader / Ken – Education ‘Kiwi Tracker’ Guide 

Both happily retired! Now our time is spent helping support and protect this amazing kiwi icon… the North Island Brown kiwi. This involvement has gradually found a way to take over our lives a bit….. but we wouldn’t change a thing!

We work together with the Kiwi Management Team to ensure our precious kiwi population continues to thrive and grow….   and we love our tasks.  Initially we started in 2010 as very naive “chick pingers” and gradually got hooked as we watched and learned from our incredible team of kiwi handlers. We surely are lifelong learners!!!  An added bonus being that our son Jamie is a predator dog handler for the Kiwi Trust, and his wife Tracy and daughters Emmerson and Jordyn also help out with trapping and kiwi monitoring.

Sue’s job as Team Leader is to co-ordinate the ‘chick pingers’ (or kiwi monitoring team).  We currently have a great team of very dedicated volunteers (mostly retired) who go out on a regular basis to check where our monitored kiwi are, confirm that they are alive, and collect data about the kiwi dads who are incubating for input to the Trust’s App (database).

Ken’s role involve’s the education side of ‘kiwi mahi’… getting the message out there to schools, to ensure that the next generation are informed of the struggles our kiwi have to survive.  Ken loves taking school children on the Kiwi Tracker walks to learn about all things kiwi.

Ken is also heavily involved with trapping and wasp control, and he is also a HALO volunteer and a trustee for the Manawahe Kokako Trust.

Rick Boon

Live Trapping Team Leader 

I am proud to be part of a volunteer team dedicated to the protection and preservation of our beautiful kiwi.  Being Team Leader for live trapping does have its challenges though!   It can mean a lot of time out in the bush, although that is something I enjoy.

A dedicated team checks the live traps every day for feral cats (our main target), stoats and the odd rat.  The traps are checked daily to ensure that the animals do not suffer.  Feral cats are excellent hunters and can cause a lot of damage to native wild life, so when one is caught it is a real victory.  I often wonder how many native birds and animals will now survive because that cat is not in the bush anymore!

I am also part of the ‘chick pinging’ team that tracks monitored adult kiwi and chicks via a transmitter on the bird’s leg.  This is something that I enjoy very much as well.  Many hours can also be spent tracking kiwi as they do like to wander!  

The Whakatāne Kiwi Trust is a very worthwhile organisation to be involved with and it has been an important part of my life for a number of years now.

Jamie Rhodes

Predator Dog Handler

Juggling shift work, family life and numerous volunteer activities is all part and parcel for Whakatāne Kiwi Trust volunteer Jamie Rhodes.

Jamie has volunteered for the Whakatāne Kiwi Trust since 2008, track cutting and monitoring trap lines. “I signed up as a Kiwi Trust volunteer 12 years ago.  I am a shift worker at Fonterra and it was something to do on my days off. The Whakatāne Kiwi Project is a really good initiative to be involved in and it provides an opportunity to spend some quality family time together in the bush” he said.  Jamie’s mum and step dad have also become volunteers and are both valued members of the Kiwi Trust whanau too.

Jamie and wife Tracy have two daughters – Emmerson and Jordyn – who often help out, undertaking tasks like trap checking, kiwi monitoring and attending trust events.  Averaging five plus hours a week, the Whakatāne Kiwi Trust volunteer work is a big commitment in itself – but it’s just one part of Jamie’s community involvement.  He also volunteers for the Whakatāne Emergency Response team, the Rural Fire Force and the Urban Land Search and Rescue team.

And Jamie now has another tool in his predator control arsenal; the Kiwi Trust’s mustelid detection dog  ‘Teddy’.  Jamie and Teddy, the short, woolly parson’s terrier, are now a common sight in the reserves around Whakatāne.


Michelle Howard

Wasp Control Contractor 

I was amazed and excited to hear kiwi call in my own backyard in Wainui shortly after moving there in 2004. I recognised the kiwi call immediately as my partner Greg and I had been living and working on Kapiti Island for several years, with kiwi calling just outside our cottage window.   I wanted to help kiwi flourish in my mainland home, so I started working for the Whakatāne Kiwi Trust as a trapping contractor.  I then became a kiwi management assistant, before becoming involved in wasp control.

The Kiwi Project has come a long way since those early days of eight kiwi in Ōhope Scenic Reserve, and it’s fantastic to have seen kiwi numbers increase from a few breeding pairs to the hundreds we have today. I’m hoping for similar success with wasp control – but of course with the contrasting aim of massively reducing the numbers of those pesky critters!

Much of my working week is spent as a theatre nurse, but the bush is my truly ‘happy place’ and spending time with the amazing people involved in the Kiwi Project is the icing on the cake. There are lots of incredible people who have made it a success and I feel lucky to  work with them – it really is a Kiwi Project family.

Lydia Grunwell

Volunteer and Events Coordinator

I am very excited to be the new Volunteer and Events Coordinator for the Whakatāne Kiwi Trust. I am responsible for planning and managing events to promote the Whakatāne Kiwi Trust, but arguably my most important role is to look after the Trust’s most valuable assets – its wonderful volunteers!  Lots of these volunteers work day and night, rain or shine; all in order to protect our beautiful Kiwi.

There is a wide range of areas our volunteers work in such as trapping, chick ‘pinging’, and wasp control – right through to night walks and education.  We are so lucky to have so much knowledge and expertise within the Trust, and it keeps growing every day!

I live in the sunny Bay with my husband Kane and we are kept on our toes constantly by our children Ella, Cullan, Poppy and Marley.  We enjoy spending time on the beach, out walking the amazing bush walks we have around the Eastern Bay, and watching or playing sports – mostly football (or soccer as it’s usually known by here in NZ!).

If you are interested in volunteering with the Whakatāne Kiwi Trust, please email me at:   volunteer@whakatanekiwi.org.nz

Jess Armstrong


I am very excited to take on the role of Administrator for the Whakatāne Kiwi Trust. As the Whakatāne Kiwi Trust administrator, you will find me paying invoices, responding to all sorts of inquiries, preparing agendas, taking minutes at all our meetings, and so much more. I think preservation of our iconic kiwi is a top priority, and it is a pleasure to do the mahi for such an awesome organisation.

My husband and I moved to Whakatāne in 2014, and we have three children who love getting outdoors. We love the beach and all the lovely bush walks locally and in the wider Bay of Plenty. When I’m not doing my administration duties you will find me spending time with my children, sewing, studying, baking (and eating), drinking coffee, or riding my bike to op shops or along the river.


John Black

IT Contractor and Kiwi Management Volunteer 

So, what’s the Whakatāne Kiwi Trust doing with an IT Team you may ask? Before you get images of Sheldon-esque geek-types sitting in a darkened room coding through the night, being perpetually fed coca-cola and pizza, it’s not quite like that. It’s a team of one, me, and I don’t drink cola and I don’t eat pizza (much).

When I first got involved with the Project, I discovered that most of their data was stored at best in spreadsheets and at worst in small, easily flammable and even more easily lost, notebooks. Having worked in IT for …. let’s just call it a long time …. I realised that I could help them centralise and secure all their data. Thus was born the WebApp, a web-based application for storing volunteer, trapping and kiwi data. As well as building the WebApp, I have also been a trapper, assisted on Kiwi Night Walks, and am currently a ‘chick pinger’ and member of the Kiwi Management team.

I can thoroughly recommend volunteering for the Trust. I have made some great friends through volunteering and it really has given me a sense of belonging in the local community. Be warned though, you may get sucked in. I started out volunteering for about an hour a week and now it appears to have taken over my life … in a good way! Anyway, better get back to coding…. where’s my pizza?

Dani Guy

Marketing and Funding Coordinator

As the Marketing and Funding Coordinator for the Whakatāne Kiwi Trust, my job is to raise public awareness about the Trust and the amazing work done by our volunteers to protect kiwi and other native species in the Whakatāne District.  Whilst this marketing stuff is a relatively new ‘gig’ for me,  it’s been a sweet job so far as there is always something happening and plenty of great stories to tell!  After all, who doesn’t love a photo of a cute, fluffy kiwi?!

My other key role is working alongside Damian, our Operations Manager to raise funds to support the Trust’s operations.  This includes writing grant applications (someone’s gotta do it!) and working alongside our wonderful sponsors and local supporters who give so generously to keep us running.

When I’m not doing my work with the Kiwi Trust, I’m busy running around after two small dictators (I mean daughters) on our avocado orchard in Tauranga, and consuming copious amounts of coffee and chocolate.  On a good day, I have also been known to walk the dog and attempt yoga.