Subantarctic teal conservation
Few people have ever seen these flightless ducks in the wild. They are mainly nocturnal, and are very secretive. Although they are flightless they make very good speed by running rapidly across the ground at the first sign of danger.
The subantarctic teal comprise of two subspecies - the Auckland Island and the Campbell Island teal.
Both species declined as a result of introduced mammals. Predators such as cats and rats have eliminated teal from many areas of their former range within the island groups.
Auckland Island teal remain on several small islands and islets in the Auckland Island group. They have not been reestablished on main Auckland Island.
Small populations of Campbell Island teal exist on offshore islands in the Campbell Island group, with the main population on Campbell Island. Previously extinct on Campbell Island, teal were successfully returned back to their home after the island was declared rat-free.
The isolation of the subantarctic islands means both the Auckland Island teal and Campbell Island teal are vulnerable to the introduction of disease which would have a catastrophic effect.
DOC's subantarctic teal recovery plan was written in 1993. This plan describes the steps to promote the recovery of the teal. The plan also outlines different management options.
The long-term vision of the plan is:
"To improve the conservation status of both Campbell Island teal and the Auckland Island teal from endangered to rare by reestablishing them in their former ranges so that further intensive management is no longer required."
In 2006, this vision was realised for the Campbell Island teal following three successful transfers in 2004, 2005 and 2006. The 159 teal released during those years are now, without management assistance, recolonising their former home.
The teal recovery programme started back in 1987 when four Campbell Island teals were transferred from their refuge on 26 ha rat-free Dent Island to the Pukaha Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre.
However, these evacuees were reluctant to breed and by 1993 not a single egg had been laid. Thankfully a breakthrough came in 1994 when Daisy and Donald paired up and the first two ducklings hatched.
Successfully rearing the first ducklings earned the wildlife centre international recognition and by March 2000 the captive population has risen to 60.
World's largest rat eradication programme
The rat eradication programme was an ambitious one – to eradicate the difficult Norway rat from Campbell, one of the New Zealand’s five subantarctic islands about 700 km south of the South Island.
From 1993, it took five years of extensive preparation and research to make the programme feasible. In 2001, DOC carried out the world’s largest rat eradication programme on Campbell Island.
While the island was not officially declared rat-free until 2006, a check using trained dogs and other detection methods in 2003 found no sign of rats, and this gave enough confidence to reintroduce teal.
But before Campbell Island teal were reintroduced, an insurance population was released on predator-free Codfish Island/Whenua Hou. Two lots of 12 captive-raised birds were released, with an 88% survival rate. This proved that transferring birds from captivity to a predator-free island was possible with little loss. From this result, it was decided that releases to Campbell Island should be directly from captivity, not via an intermediate "toughing up" stage.
In 2004, the first Campbell Island teal were returned home. It was a homecoming that was celebrated both nationally and internationally.
Success of a 20 year project
Monitoring of the first two releases of 50 and 55 birds onto Campbell Island showed they were breeding – a very encouraging result. The third and final release of 54 birds in August 2006 marked the end of a 20 year conservation project for DOC.
It had been a long exile for the rare flightless bird after being driven from its Campbell Island home by rats more than 200 years ago.
In fact, up until 1972, when a small group was discovered on rat-free Dent Island, off Campbell Island's coast, the Campbell Island teal was thought to have been extinct for about 100 years. It was from this small group that DOC has been able to turn the tide to establish a thriving teal population back onto Campbell Island.
What makes this recovery so special is that a lot of conservation projects don’t have an end point – they are an ongoing battle. But the teal recovery programme has achieved what the department set out to achieve: the recovery of Campbell Island teal and a big step in the restoration of Campbell Island.
You can help
Not only do we need your support for the recovery programmes but also your awareness of the islands' fragile ecosystem. An event such as an oil spill has the potential to decimate the teal by covering their main feeding areas. The accidental introduction of predators such as rats would seriously threaten the local populations that inhabit these island sanctuaries.
You can also assist us by being aware of the international significance of New Zealand’s island reserves – they have a significant role in protecting a wide range of special and often unique plants and animals. Your understanding goes a long way to raising awareness about the type of habitat the teal rely on for their survival.
Because few people get to the islands, some of these special plants and animals including the Campbell Island teal, have been brought back to the mainland and can be seen at approved facilities, most notably at the Pukaha Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre.
Help protect our native birds
When visiting parks, beaches, rivers, and lakes
- Only take dogs to areas that allow them, and keep them under control.
- Check for pests when visiting pest-free islands.
- Leave nesting birds alone.
- Use available access ways to get to the beach.
- Avoid leaving old fishing lines on beaches or in the sea.
- Follow the water care code and local navigation bylaws.
- Don't drive on riverbeds, or keep to formed tracks if you have to.
Other ways to help
- Get your dog trained in avian awareness.
- Volunteer to control predators and restore bird habitats.
- Set predator traps on your property.
- Put a bell on your cat's collar and feed it well.
For more information about subantartic teal contact: