Whio numbers in the Wangapeka-Fyfe Whio Security Site in Kahurangi National Park have surpassed the Department of Conservation’s (DOC) target of 50 pairs after nearly two decades of predator control and management efforts.
When the whio security site was started in 2003 – with the first 3.6 kilometres of trapline installed on the Rolling River – just one whio pair was found across 10 kilometres of waterway.
Today DOC revealed that the number of whio couplings had now reached 79.
The Wangapeka-Fyfe Security Site now encompasses 1078 stoat traps along 85 kilometres of the Wangapeka, Fyfe, Rolling and upper Karamea rivers.
“It’s a huge milestone to not only achieve but exceed our goal of 50 pairs,” says DOC Motueka Senior Biodiversity Ranger, Kate Steffens, who became involved in the security site in 2006, leading installation of the trapline on the Fyfe River in snow.
“We’ve been able to achieve this thanks to the support of Genesis through the Whio Forever programme, the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust, and the contractors and community volunteers who do the hard yards with us to maintain the traps,” she says.
“The support of Genesis since 2011 enabled our stoat trapping network to be extended and intensified and it assisted the Whio Operation Nest Egg (WHIONE) programme to boost whio numbers. Through the WHIONE programme eggs were taken from wild pairs and the ducklings hatched and raised in a wildlife centre for release into the security site.”
Genesis Group Manager Sustainability, Courtney Simpson said the dedication of the DOC team and commitment of community volunteers was at the heart of the programme’s success.
“Genesis has been a partner of The Whio Forever since 2011 and results like this are good news for all New Zealanders. The whio is a river specialist and an iconic back-country species and we are pleased to play our part in helping boost its numbers.”
MS Steffens said the support of the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust had been instrumental in growing the whio population.
“It started with hatching and raising ducklings for the WHIONE programme. Since 2018, it has continued with a ‘breed for release’ programme in which pairs at the Isaac facility and other wildlife centres produce whio for release in the Wangapeka-Fyfe site and other South Island rivers.”
“I recall frosty mornings of thawing my boots out with warm water to get them on my feet, having to carefully carry whio eggs down the track and across rivers to go to Isaac’s, and watching hours of video footage of whio incubating eggs and anxiously hoping not to see predators visiting the nest.
“We have put our heart and soul into the project and while getting to 79 pairs is an achievement for whio, it’s also a highly rewarding achievement for all of us who have worked to protect the whio and grow their numbers.”
Whio are vulnerable to stoat predation so the trapping network has been essential for protecting the ducks.
Aerial 1080 predator control operations have also provided critical additional protection in years when rat and stoat numbers surge due to beech seeding. Duckling numbers spiked following aerial 1080 operations which reduced stoat numbers.