There's evidence that kokako have bred on Secretary Island in Doubtful Sound, Fiordland. This is believed to be the first time in more than 30 years that kokako have bred in the South Island.

Fiordland Lobster Company are celebrating a conservation ‘first’ with evidence that kokako have bred on Secretary Island in Doubtful Sound. This is believed to be the first time in more than 30 years that kokako have bred in the South Island following the extinction of the South Island kokako. The company funded the transfer of 27 kokako from the North Island to Secretary Island during 2008-09, in a bid to re-establish kokako in Fiordland.

Company representative John Steffens accompanied Department of Conservation (DOC) staff on a visit to the island in March to check on the released birds, when a young bird was observed, confirming that the released birds are successfully breeding and raising chicks.

“This was an absolutely amazing sight - a wild Fiordland hatched kokako”, said DOC ranger Megan Willans. “By playing calls to the bird we were able to enjoy a really good look at it and now we’re excited to see how quickly these birds breed and expand across Secretary Island.”

Kokako were once widespread across the forests of New Zealand, one subspecies in the north and another in the South Island. Unfortunately, they are easily killed by rats, possums and stoats. The last confirmed South Island kokako sighting was in 1967 and by the late 1980s there were as few as 350 pairs left in the North Island. In 2007 DOC sadly conceded the South Island kokako extinct.

However in the last 20 years, North Island kokako have made a strong recovery. Pest control, transfers to secure offshore islands and the efforts of groups such as the Kaharoa Kokako Trust have meant there are now healthy populations in a number of northern forests.

“Returning kokako to southern forests will not only mean we get to hear their enchanting calls, but like the kereru and extinct moa, they are important seed dispersers vital for the regeneration of our forests”, said Ms Willans.

“This project stands out because it’s one of the first times a surrogate species has been transferred specifically to replace a recently extinct species", Ms Willans said.

“Fiordland Lobster’s commitment to the project was a bold move”.

Funding the translocation of the North Island kokako to Secretary Island is an extension of the Fiordland Lobster Company’s commitment to conservation and the restoration of islands in Fiordland. Investing in the unique values on the mainland and islands is seen as a natural extension of the company’s reliance on the long-term sustainability of the marine environment.

Fiordland Lobster Company board member John Steffens said having fished in the Doubtful Sound area in the mid 1990s he was familiar with the decimation of the birdlife on Secretary Island. He said the transformation since DOC’s intervention is dramatic and the birdsong is now vibrant. In a recent visit to the island searching for kokako, John saw kokako, kaka, weka, kakariki and bellbirds. “The proliferation of birdlife is amazing,” he said.

Additional Information

  • In 2008 10 kokako were translocated from Mapara in the North Island near Te Kuiti. Transmitters were attached to these birds so DOC could monitor their initial survival on Secretary Island to make certain there was suitable food and shelter for kokako. The results showed that Secretary Island provided these needs for kokako, and so in 2009 another 17 birds were translocated from Kaharoa and Rotoehu forests near Rotorua.

  • This transfer was no easy task and was an expensive undertaking. Kokako were caught in high rig mist-nets in the forest canopy and were held in make-shift aviaries during catching. After 10 days they were then shipped in boxes via car, plane and finally helicopter to Secretary Island over 10 hours, with a number of feeding stops along the way.

  • The Fiordland Lobster Company’s sponsorship of island restoration projects in Fiordland is about their commitment and passion for Fiordland and is reflective of the rising tide of environmental awareness amongst Fiordland Fishermen. Some members of the company have over 40 years experience living and working in Fiordland. In 2005 the company funded an intensive trapping programme on Pigeon Island in Dusky Sound. By 2007 the stoat population had been wiped out and the company helped reintroduce mohua and South Island robin to the island.

  • The physical difference between the North and South Island kokako was in the colour of their wattles. North Island kokako have blue wattles and the South Island bird had orange wattles.
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