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Snares Island snipe doing well in new home

Date:  11 January 2013

Newly released Snares Island snipe are doing well in their new home on predator-free Codfish Island/Whenua Hou after their recent transfer.

Department of Conservation staff on Codfish Island/Whenua Hou report regular sightings of the birds following the second-only transfer by DOC from the subantarctic Snares Islands recently. According to manager of outlying islands, Pete McClelland, this bodes well for establishing a new breeding population.

“The birds are settling in well and should be ready to breed next spring and summer,“ he said “We’re excited about the prospect of this new population improving the chances of survival for the species.”

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Snipe being fed glucose solution.
Snipe being fed glucose solution to avoid dehydration on the trip

The snipe, also known as tutukiwi for its long beak and ground living habit, was once widespread around New Zealand but was wiped out on the mainland and many islands by predators, mainly rats.

A total of thirty snipe were captured in hand-nets on the Snares Islands and transferred by boat to Codfish Island. The transfer was funded by Tokyo Channel Six who had a film crew making a programme about penguin behaviour around the Snares.

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Tokyo Channel Six film crew filming the snipe project.
The Tokyo Channel Six film crew

“This is great example of the Department and commercial enterprise working together,” says Mr McClelland. “The film crew get their wildlife programme and we get to do our important work with species under threat. They were enthralled by what we were doing. They even took time out from their project to film ours!”

The previously transferred snipe, taken from the Snares to Putauhinu Island off the south-west coast of Stewart Island in 2005, have grown to an estimated population of over 500 birds.

It is hoped that these newly established populations brought from the subantarctic islands will ensure the survival and genetic diversity of the species.

The transferred snipe on Codfish Island/Whenua Hou will continue to be monitored, with DOC staff on the look-out for un-banded fledglings next summer.

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Background information

  • Snares Island snipe (Coenocorypha huegeli), Threat Classification D.4. Naturally Uncommon: Island Endemic, Range Restricted, Sparse (Miskelly et al., 2008).
  • Snipe are about the size of a thrush with a long beak, which presumably lead to its Maori name of tutukiwi.
  • While individuals from the successful population on Putauhinu Island could have been harvested for the transfer to Codfish/Whenua Hou, best practice is to go back to the original stock to maximise the genetic diversity of the new population.
  • It is hoped to establish the bird on other titi islands. 
  • They were once widespread around New Zealand but as they are ground-living and usually reluctant flyers were rapidly wiped out from the main islands by introduced predators, mainly rats.
  • South Island snipe (a separate sub-species) found their last refuge on Taukihepa/ Big South Cape Island. In the 1960’s this sanctuary was also invaded by rats and, despite a last minute attempt to save them by transferring a few to a nearby island, the South Island snipe was gone forever.
  • While over-nighting at Easy Harbour, the transfer team were visited by Vaughn Fisher, a crayfisherman and a mutton birder on Taukihepa, who became interested in the transfer and is keen to see Snipe back on his island. With the rats gone, this is a real possibility sometime in the future although the presence of weka and dogs would be problematic.
  • Film Crew:- From Tokyo Channel Six
    • Masanobu Miyoshi - Director
    • Anna Hachimine - Presenter
    • Temoasei Kasci - Sound
    • Hiroaki Takei - Interpreter
    • Toshimi Sakuma - Cameraman

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