Chatham Island snipe returned to Pitt Island

Scoop: Chatham Island snipe returned to Pitt Island
Don Merton.

One of New Zealand’s least-known rare birds is making a comeback. Twenty Chatham Island snipe were released into a privately-owned reserve on Pitt Island on 28th April. Only 33 people live on Pitt Island, the second largest of the Chatham Islands. Members of the community assisted the Department of Conservation with catching the snipe on nearby Rangatira (South East Island).

Snipe are distantly related to godwits, and formerly occurred throughout New Zealand. Following the introduction of rats and cats they became confined to remote islands free of these predators. The Chatham Island snipe survived on 219 hectare Rangatira and came close to extinction before the island was made a reserve in 1961. There are now over 1000 birds on the island. Twenty-three were transferred to nearby Mangere Island in 1970, where they thrived.

Both Rangatira and Mangere Island Nature Reserves are closed to the public. The release of snipe on Pitt Island will make them accessible for viewing for the first time. The birds were released into Ellen Elizabeth Preece Conservation Covenant, which has been surrounded by a cat-proof fence since 2001.

Landowner John Preece was delighted to see the snipe returned to Pitt Island, where they died out in the 1890s following cat introduction. “This is why we set this land aside – to help the forest and the birds recover. It is a privilege to be able to care for these rare birds, and to be able to share them with the community and their guests.”

The transfer team was led by Dr Colin Miskelly of the Department of Conservation, who first studied Chatham Island snipe on Rangatira in 1983.

Rat scare at island sanctuary averted by four-legged hero

TV3 > News > Weather/Environment News > Story > Rat scare at island sanctuary averted by four-legged hero

An island sanctuary for rare birds has been at the centre of a pest scare today. Motuihe Island in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf has been rat-free for 15 years, but yesterday paw prints were found at several spots on the island.

Jack the dog has been specially trained to smell a rat and today his senses were put to the test.

Jack and his owner, Fin Buchanan, have been training for seven years for a day like today.

But with a camera watching Jack’s every step, finding the Motuihe rat still looked like big weight to bear.

The rogue rat threatened the Department of Conservation’s million dollar plans to release kiwi and other rare birds on the island.

“This is the last thing we needed or expected,” DoC threats officer Ditch Keeling said. “We haven’t had a rat on here for 15 years. It’s really quite bizarre.”

The rat is thought to have come in off a boat and prints had been spotted in five of the island’s 45 tunnels, cunningly built to detect rat-steps.

DoC staff like Mr Keeling had been setting traps through the night.

“You live an adrenaline mode for the first ten days and then you start to get really tired,” Mr Keeling said.

But it was not long before Jack found the elusive rodent.

“Obviously we’re pretty elated,” Ditch Keeling said. “If this is the only rat on the island then we’ve just pulled off the fastest complete eradications ever taken place.”

Close inspection showed the rat was a female. The Department of Conservation will now need to check for signs whether she has ever had babies. And if that is the case, Jack could be making a return trip to the sanctuary.

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