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A DOC and Genesis Energy online game about threats to whio in the wild is proving popular.

Date:  06 September 2016

An online game developed to teach users about threats to whio in the wild is proving wildly popular.

DOC and Genesis Energy have worked together to develop the game, called Whio Boot Camp for Conservation Week, which runs from 10-18 September.

In a style reminiscent of Super Mario, users navigate the challenges of life as a whio, swimming, flying, eating and avoiding stoats in order to ‘make it’ in the wild. At the end of the game, successful players earn the chance to enter a competition to be a whio ranger for a day – interacting out in the wild with real whio. 

The game has proved very popular. In the two weeks the game has been live, over 5000 individuals have attempted the game. That’s already a 59% increase in players compared to the whole period the ‘Find a Whio’ game ran last year.

This is the first year the ‘Whio Boot Camp’ game has run. In previous years a different game called ‘Find a Whio’ was promoted which involved finding whio hidden on a map of New Zealand. This year we wanted to develop something new and more interactive.

The Whio Forever team searched for months to find a suitable game developer, and eventually landed with Auckland based developer Dot Dot. Dot Dot took the initial ideas and concepts from the Whio Forever team, did some background research into the life of a whio and fleshed it out into a playable game. 

DOC Threatened Species Ambassador Nic Toki says that the game is fun and educational and a great way of using technology to engage people in conservation. “I found the game thoroughly addictive, it’s the type of thing you play over and over again, and it is a great way of illustrating the challenges our precious whio face to survive”.

The game and competition to win a whio adventure trip for two will be open to play until the 18 September 2016.

The game is an initiative developed out of the partnership between Genesis Energy and the Department of Conservation. The two organisations are working together to secure the future of this unique vulnerable native bird. Operating under the name of Whio Forever this partnership is fast tracking implementation of the national Whio Recovery Plan to protect whio and increase public awareness.

Background information on whio

  • The whio is a threatened species of native duck that is only found in New Zealand’s fast flowing waters. Featured on New Zealand’s $10 note and with an estimated nationwide population of less than 2500 birds, whio are rarer than kiwi.
  • Whio are adapted to live on fast-flowing rivers so finding whio means you will also find clean, fast-flowing water with a good supply of underwater insects.
  • This makes whio important indicators of ecosystem health – they only exist where there is high quality clean and healthy waterways.

Whio Forever

  • Genesis Energy has a strong historic association with whio through the Tongariro Power Scheme and in 2010 this association grew through the establishment of Whio Awareness Month (March).
  • Today, Genesis Energy and the Department of Conservation (DOC) continue their partnership through The Whio Forever Programme, which aims to secure the future of whio in the wild and ensure New Zealanders understand and value of whio in our rivers.
  • The support of Genesis Energy and the work of DOC has enabled the Whio Recovery Plan to be implemented.

Conservation issue

  • The whio are eaten by stoats, ferrets and cats, with the largest impact during nesting time when eggs, young and females are vulnerable, and also when females are in moult and can’t fly.
  • Extensive trapping can manage these predators and work in key whio habitats by DOC and Genesis Energy on the Whio Forever Project has already seen an increase in whio numbers.
  • Whio cannot be moved to predator-free islands like other species because of their reliance on large fast-flowing rivers.
  • Pairs occupy approximately 1km of water – so they need a lot of river to sustain a large population and they fiercely defend their territories, which makes it difficult to put them with other ducks in captivity.
  • They are susceptible to flood events which, destroy nests, fragment broods and wash away their valued food source. 
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