Introduction

Four critically endangered kākāpō have been moved to predator-free Hauturu/Little Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf.

Date:  11 July 2017

Four critically endangered kākāpō have been moved to predator-free Hauturu/Little Barrier Island, in the Hauraki Gulf as part of a programme to secure the survival of the flightless native parrot.

There are only 153 kākāpō in the world and Hauturu plays a key role in the work the Department of Conservation is doing, in partnership with national partner Meridian Energy and Ngāi Tahu, to ensure kākāpō survives as a species.   

The four kākāpō were moved from predator-free Whenua Hou/Codfish Island, near Stewart Island, to Hauturu yesterday.

Kākāpō Recovery Team member Andrew Digby on Whenua Hou Codfish Island holds one of the four kākāpō moved to Hauturu Little Barrier Island.
Kākāpō Recovery Team member Andrew Digby holds one of the
four kākāpō moved to Hauturu/Little Barrier Island

Tane Davis (Ngāi Tahu) and Fiona McKenzie (Ngāti Manuhiri) releasing one of the kākāpō on Hauturu Little Barrier Island. Photo: Deidre Vercoe.
Tane Davis (Ngāi Tahu) and Fiona McKenzie (Ngāti Manuhiri)
release a kākāpō on Hauturu. Photo: Deidre Vercoe.

“We now have 14 kākāpō on Hauturu. We’ve placed them there as part of a long-term trial to see if they can hatch and raise chicks on the island without human support,” says Kākāpō Recovery Manager Deidre Vercoe. 

“Because of its size and the fact it’s predator free, Hauturu holds great potential as a long-term, safe site for a self-sustaining kākāpō population. But we need to know if the birds can successfully raise chicks there without our support,” says Deidre Vercoe. 

One of the four kākāpō moved from Whenua Hou Codfish Island to Hauturu Little Barrier Island.
Blades, one of the four kākāpō moved from Whenua Hou Codfish Island to Hauturu/Little Barrier Island

Meridian Energy’s General Manager of Retail Neal Barclay says kākāpō are a national treasure and Meridian is delighted to be able to contribute to their ongoing conservation.

“Meridian is a dedicated guardian of our natural environment. We are proud to work in partnership with DOC to raise awareness of the rare and iconic kākāpō and help ensure their survival.”

Kākāpō have been on Hauturu since 2012. They’ve hatched two eggs on the island in that time but have not been able to raise the chicks on their own.

“We’ve moved more breeding aged female kākāpō onto Hauturu, hoping this will increase nest numbers. We’re seeking more meaningful results about the ability of kākāpō to hatch and raise chicks on the island without support,” says Deidre Vercoe. 

The kākāpō released on Hauturu were captured on Whenua Hou before dawn yesterday and put in transport boxes. The birds were flown by helicopter to Invercargill Airport, placed in seats on board an Air New Zealand passenger flight and flown to Auckland, via Christchurch.

“We’re grateful to Air New Zealand for flying the kākāpō almost the length of the country as part of the airline’s conservation partnership agreement with DOC,” says Deidre Vercoe. 

A helicopter carried the kākāpō from Auckland Airport to Hauturu. The birds were handed from Ngāi Tahu to Ngāti Manuhiri during a powhiri on the island. The birds were then released on Hauturu as the sun set, completing their epic journey from Whenua Hou in a single day.

Background information

The introduction of predators such as rats, stoats and cats brought kākāpō to the brink of extinction. There were only 50 kākāpō in 1995, when the DOC Kākāpō Recovery Team was established.

“We’ve been successful in tripling the kākāpō population since 1995 by placing the birds on predator free islands and actively helping them hatch and rear their chicks,” says Deidre Vercoe.

Kākāpō only breed when native trees produce enough fruit. In the south, large amounts of rimu triggers kākāpō to breed. “At this stage, we don’t know what triggers kākāpō to breed on Hauturu.”  

“We’ve learnt to be patient working with kākāpō as they don’t breed every year. Males breed when they’re about four. Females don’t breed until they’re at least five. But they do live a long time, potentially as long as 90 years.”

The trial to see if kākāpō can breed and raise chicks without support on Hauturu began five years ago. It could take 20 years before we have any meaningful results from the trial,” says Deidre Vercoe

Meridian Energy Partnership

Meridian Energy has been the National Partner of the Kākāpō Recovery Programme since June 2016.  Meridian contributes to the growth of the kākāpō population by helping DOC fund research and pioneer conservation techniques relating to genetics, nutrition, disease management. They also help DOC find new sites for kākāpō to live and breed and raise awareness of the need to support kākāpō. Meridian works closely with Ngāi Tahu in this partnership.

Kākāpō population

There are 153 kākāpō. Most of the birds live on two predator free islands - Whenua Hou / Codfish Island, near Stewart island, and Anchor Island in Fiordland.

Kākāpō are breeding successfully, with support from the Kākāpō Recovery Team, on Whenua Hou / Codfish Island and Anchor island.

A record 32 kākāpō chicks were fledged on Whenua Hou and Anchor Islands last year (2016). This was the most successful breeding season in the 25-year history of the DOC Kākāpō Recovery Programme. This bumper breeding season allowed the programme to move six kākāpō birds to predator-free Hauturu.

There are 14 kākāpō on Hauturu. The Kākāpō Recovery Team is monitoring these birds to see if they can hatch and raise chicks on the island without human support. 

Kākāpō Recovery Programme goal

The long-term goal of the Kākāpō Recovery Programme is to have 150 female kākāpō at three separate predator-free sites.  Each predator-free site will have at least 50 breeding age females. The populations at two sites will receive support from the Kākāpō Recovery Team. The kākāpō at the third site will be able to hatch and raise chicks without human support.

Air New Zealand Partnership

Air New Zealand and DOC first joined forces in April 2012 to work together for conservation. Air New Zealand flies endangered native wildlife, such as kākāpō, to predator free sites as part of DOC’s work to secure the survival of these species

Auckland Zoo

The Auckland Zoo Conservation Fund has helped fund Kākāpō Recovery Team work on Hauturu since 2012. Zoo staff have helped the recovery team hand-rear chicks during breeding seasons. Auckland Zoo’s veterinary team provide veterinary services to the Kākāpō Recovery Programme.

Contact

Nick Hirst, DOC Communications Advisor
Phone: +64 9 307 4846 
Mobile: +64 27 704 7773
Email: nhirst@doc.govt.nz 

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