When Ajax visits town

The recent morning book launch of Ajax the Kea Dog was crowded out, so a second session followed for fans to meet this celebrity dog and his young Department of Conservation mate.

Sam Neill narrated the BBC documentary featuring Ajax and Corey Mosen in 2016. “Superheroes”, headlined the article in the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly recently. And in-between times this duo has starred in Kiwi films, magazines and newspapers, on TV and radio shows and now the book about them, AJAX the Kea Dog, A working dog’s life in the high country, has hit the November Neilson NZ Bestsellers list.

Corey and Ajax’s office is the South Island’s alpine tops, often in freezing snow or blistering heat, where they work to save the Kea. But here was Ajax wandering around the legs of Nelson’s Page and Blackmore bookshop crowd, regularly checking up on Corey’s young twins, eyeballing Corey when his name was mentioned, sniffing deeply into one small girl’s ear.

Ajax’s nose is a valuable asset. Highly trained to sniff out Kea, Ajax’s reaction then lets Corey find Kea nests and monitor what’s happening to this endangered bird. He’s also trained to ignore birds. One photo in the book, shows Ajax and a Kea nose to beak, in another a kea is perched on Ajax’s back.

The photos, eighty-two of them, are real winners in this book. They’re full page, double page, most taken by Corey Mosen in spectacular alpine South Island settings. One, with reflections of Ajax in his red DOC coat, standing in an alpine tarn under snow clad alps and a bright blue sky, could sell New Zealand.

Some photos are close up and personal. One double spread is of Corey’ boots and lower legs, sticking out of a hole from under a huge beech tree, where he’s checking out a Kea nest in Nelson Lakes National Park. Of course, there are lots of photos showing the stunning Kea and one of a mother Kea deep in her nest, with one grey fluffy chick.

Amid the celebration of Ajax and Corey Mosen’s work, another name has emerged with the publication of this book – in the guise of the ghost writer, Nicola McCloy.

Ghost writer’s names are often hidden; some subjects want to claim the glory of having written their story, want no sign of a writer. A quick Google search reveals Essentially, a ghost writer does not normally receive any credit for your book because when you hire a ghost writer, the published book is yours alone.

So this explains when Nicola McCloy was congratulated on writing Ajax the Kea Dog, she sounded surprised.

But within a few minutes at the book launch, Corey Mosen with a generosity of spirit said, “I didn’t write this book.”

Nicola came down to Nelson and taped Corey over one weekend last summer and followed this by many SKYPE sessions, wrote it up and crafted it. And inside on the title page, under the title it reads, COREY MOSEN with Nicola McCloy.

Nicola has let Corey tell his story. In the first person, it’s Corey’s story. She’s let the text capture his voice and the character of this sensitive, tough, wildlife biologist, his dry humour, his love for Kea and conservation and his adventures with Ajax.

Nicola has also sprinkled the structure of Corey’s story with suspense.  Will Ajax pass the final DOC Conservation dog test? Will he get hypothermia? How on earth will he cope canyoning or with that wild pig?  What will happen next? I had to keep reading,

As well, Nicola has broken up Corey’s story with blocks of text about this endangered bird: how they get in people’s faces, live to 30 years. The Kea was 2017 NZ bird of the year.  But some of the news is gritty. One chapter, titled A Misunderstood Bird, tells that around 150,000 Kea were slaughtered in the 100 years until 1970. Some of Corey’s stories about predators and empty nests would make you weep.

The appendix is given over to The Kea Conservation Trust’s, Tamsin Orr-Walker who writes that one of the Trust’s main projects is around conflict resolution between this endangered parrot and those who still think of it as a pest.

At the close of the launch there was warm applause; and Ajax then paw-printed autographs in his book.

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Janet Hart

Janet Hart lives in Nelson, where she taught English in secondary schools for nearly 30 years, before dabbling in a little historical New Zealand Art. In 2012 she took up Magazine Journalism, which now consumes her.