Recovering kōkako population not out of the woods yet

April 25, 2021
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Recovery efforts over more than two decades have seen the iconic North Island kōkako brought back from the brink of extinction.

But it is not fully out of the woods – with the Department of Conservation (DOC) contributing more than $1 million in operating expenditure this year to continue the fight against predators, using both aerial and ground control projects in kōkako habitats.

A special event in Pureora Forest on Friday celebrated the 20-year milestone and included an early-morning forest walk, during which participants could hear the dawn chorus with the kōkako’s among the birdsong.

As well as holding an important place in Maori mythology, the bird’s iconic status was due in part to its extraordinary ‘loud, long, slow-paced sequence of rich, organ-like notes’, said Minister of Conservation Kiri Allan.

The song was often used by film-makers to evoke the sense and spirit of New Zealand native forests, she said.

Protection of the species began in the late 1990s, after the kōkako dropped to as few as 1000 individual birds scattered across the North Island.

“There are now 2000 breeding pairs of this secretive forest bird across the North Island, up from just 330 pairs when recovery efforts began,” Allan said.

“This is a true conservation success story, and a massive testament to the individuals, iwi and community groups who have worked alongside the Department of Conservation (DOC) to rebuild the population.

“Without their combined efforts this taonga may have been lost forever.”

Translocation and intensive predator control by DOC, including ground control and the use of biodegradable 1080 in aerial operations in large rugged areas, had been vital to rebuilding the species, she said.

Sites with effective ongoing predator control, had seen kōkako populations increase by up to 50 per cent each year with DOC’s efforts at four North Island sites – Mataraua, Waipapa Ecological Area, Mapara and Boundary Stream – resulting in significant boosts to populations.

Allan said DOC would spend more than $1 million this year on maintaining the recovery.

A continuation of the partnership and commitment that proved successful so far, alongside ongoing research and monitoring, would ensure the kōkako was around for future generations to enjoy, Allan said.

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