A plague of stoats is decimating the wild population of one of New Zealand’s rarest birds and a new plan has been formulated to save them from extinction.
Scores of the native takahe have been wiped out by feral stoats and Phil Tisch from the Department of Conservation says it has been a shock and a surprise.
“It’s really hard going out and finding dead birds,” says Tisch.
Some takahe are now being reared at Fiordland’s Burwood Bush unit and although the numbers are quite low DOC spokeswoman Linda Kilduff says it is vital for the bird’s continuing survival. She says it’s a real privilege to experience the contact with the birds.
“The resident pairs here actually have a really important task to foster the chicks and teach them the skills needed to be returned to the mountains,” says Kilduff.
Takahe Valley in the middle of the Murchison Mountains is a historic place for the takahe as it was where the bird was rediscovered in 1948. Before that, takahe were considered extinct.
Since humans arrived in New Zealand a thousand years ago more than a third of the land and freshwater birds have become extinct.
DOC is determined that won’t happen to the takahe. Intensive conservation programmes have halted the bird’s decline and about 70 are kept on off-shore, predator-free islands to keep them away from their worst enemy – the stoat.
Thirty threatened Kakaruai birds have been successfully transferred to New Zealand’s newest sanctuary.
Secretary Island, a 8,000 hectare island at the western end of Doubtful Sound in the Fiordland National Park, will be the new home to the Kaharuai, or South Island Robin.
“It’s fantastic, it’s been a big achievement getting to this point,” says Murray Willians from the Department of Conservation.
They say a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush but for DOC it’s the birds in the bush that are important.
“There’s no rodents or possums here, and essentially no stoats and very few deer now too, so it’s essentially clear of introduced animals that cause harm to NZ’s native biodiversity,” says Willians.
The birds were transferred from Breaksea Island following a three year project to rid the island of predators.
Breaksea was the forerunner of the country’s island restoration programme and boasts a population of thousands of Kakaruai, and other threatened species.
Offshore islands play a key role in the battle against introduced pests. Birds like the Saddleback would have been extinct without them.
There used to be thousands of South Island Robins on Secretary Island before Stoats were introduced about a hundred years ago. Now there are none, and DOC is hoping this population of birds brought here, will flourish.
“Seeing and hearing that birdsong and thinking of what it used to be like in the South Island beech forests is quite incredible and quite different to what we see now on the mainland anywhere really,” says Willans.
“These conservation programmes are very important. It’s very important we retain the character of the area,” says John Davies from the Fiordland Conservation Trust.
The programmes will ensure the birds keep singing for generations to come.
New Zealand has received the worst possible ranking, last amongst 130 countries, for its protection of threatened species, according to the World Economic Forum’s latest Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report (T&TCR)
Care for the Wild International chief executive, Dr Barbara Maas, who is currently in New Zealand, says, “The T&TCR provides a timely wake-up call for New Zealand as the Government considers what protection will be afforded to the endangered Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins.”
The comprehensive T&TCR report ranks nations’ international competitiveness as a tourism destination. This year New Zealand dropped five places overall to 19th out of 130 countries as the report took a greater focus on environmental sustainability to reflect the increasing importance visitors place on countries’ environmental performance. Last year New Zealand ranked 14th, just behind Australia but in this year’s report, Australia was ranked fourth while New Zealand’s ranking fell five places.
“New Zealanders rightly take great pride in their country’s ‘clean &green’ credentials. However, despite making progress in some areas, this report shows that when it comes to caring for native wildlife, this perception is simply not based on reality.”
They are not the prettiest in the insect kingdom but weta are an iconic New Zealand species – and they are going places.
Tree weta are being collected on Banks Pensinsula as part of a project to move them back into the city.
Eleven weta are city-bound – being relocated in portable wooden houses to Riccarton Bush, a six hectare block of kahikatea floodplain forest, surrounded by a predator-proof fence in the heart of Christchurch.
John Moore: ”This is the first translocation we’ve had into the bush, this is the first time we’ve reintroduced something back in here, and it is quite exciting for us.”
Researchers say the urban bush will form a natural laboratory and they have plans to add to the eco-system.
“We’re beginning with invertebrates, we’re going to monitor their welfare over the next few years and then move on to the next stage – which is probably to introduce lizards and eventually birds back into the forest.”
oil painting of South island Tomtit by Peter Jean Caley
Stewart Island interests are considering an ambitious $35 million proposal to eradicate rats, wild cats and possums from the island.
The proposal has initial support from parts of the community but is likely to be vehemently opposed by deer hunters. It includes a predator fence around the settlement of Oban and plans for widespread aerial poison drops.
Described as New Zealand’s biggest conservation project, it aims to “make Stewart Island the Galapagos of the South”.
Copies of the proposal have been given to community groups and key “stakeholders” before a public meeting on April 3.
The “draft feasibility study” has been prepared by the Stewart Island/Rakiura Community and Environment Trust, with support from the Department of Conservation and the Tindall Foundation.
Proposed “border control” measures could include teams of rodent-checking dogs monitoring departures from Bluff and Invercargill and arrivals on the island.
It is hoped bird species such as kakapo, saddleback, mohua, kokako and teal may eventually be reintroduced to Stewart Island.