The first Haast tokoeka chick to hatch at the West Coast Wildlife Centre emerged from its egg at 10:30am on Sunday morning – another exciting milestone for the recently opened kiwi husbandry facility.
Named Okahu by kaitiaki hapū Te Runanga o Makaawhio, the chick is healthy and doing very well. The egg was rescued from the Haast Kiwi Sanctuary in late August, and was incubated at the Wildlife Centre for 39 days. The chick took six days to hatch and emerged weighing 323.0g.
“It is wonderful to be able to support the recovery of the Haast tokoeka with a facility so close to their natural range.” Wildlife Centre owner Richard Benton said.
The West Coast Wildlife Centre opened in November 2010 and is a public private partnership with the Department of Conservation. It is home to the incubation and captive rearing program for New Zealand's most endangered kiwi - the rowi and Haast tokoeka. The West Coast Wildlife Centre plays a key role in BNZ Operation Nest Egg by providing specialist husbandry care to help save the rowi and Haast tokoeka from extinction.
Kim Bryan-Walker, kiwi ranger at the Wildlife Centre, says, “Having the birds hatching at the centre now is very exciting. A ‘backstage pass’ to the Wildlife Centre provides a rare chance for visitors to see one of New Zealand’s rarest kiwi, from one of the most remote places in the country.”
The Haast tokoeka is a rare subspecies of kiwi, related to the Stewart Island and Fiordland tokoeka. Over half the population is found within the Haast Kiwi Sanctuary, an area of 11400 ha between the Waiatoto and Arawhata Rivers, south of Haast in South Westland.
While the adult tokoeka can defend themselves from attack quite ably, their chicks are easy prey for introduced predators, especially stoats.
An intensive DOC trapping programme is underway to try to reduce stoat numbers in the area, but tokoeka chicks are still regularly preyed on by stoats.
Despite extensive stoat trapping over the whole sanctuary, tokoeka numbers have not increased and they remained critically endangered, with fewer than 300 left in 2007.
In 2007, each of the 87 monitored tokoeka within the Haast Kiwi Sanctuary became part of BNZ Operation Nest Egg, and their numbers have begun to increase.
Tokoeka eggs are now rescued from the wild and incubated in the specially designed husbandry facilities at the West Coast Wildlife Centre in Franz Josef. Chicks are then released to crèche islands in Lake Te Anau and Lake Manapouri, or to Orokonui Ecosanctuary in Dunedin. Once they are big enough to defend themselves against stoat attack, they are rereleased into the sanctuary.