Sunday, May 19, 2024

Kakī fly coop after successful breeding season

One hundred and fifty young kakī/black stilt have been released into Te Manahuna/Mackenzie Basin in what the Department of Conservation (DOC) is calling a significant boost to the population of the critically endangered wading bird.

The kakī were reared in captivity at DOC’s Twizel facility and the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust, from eggs collected from both wild and captive breeding pairs, as part of the Kakī Recovery Programme.

After two earlier releases, DOC staff were given special permission for a third release on Monday while the country was at Alert Level 4 due to serious welfare risks to the kakī.

DOC Kakī Team Leader, Claudia Mischler says the kakī had reached a stage where they had become aggressive in the limited space of the brooding facility, which was causing stress that could have had serious health implications, and they needed to be released as soon as possible.

“Like the rest of New Zealand, DOC staff are staying home to stop the spread of COVID-19 and save lives, so our field work is currently on hold,” she said.

“In this case, the decision was made to go ahead with the kakī release because the risk to staff and the community was low and a release needed to take place for the welfare of these special birds, which are important to the future of the species.

“After a great year of raising chicks, it was rewarding to see so many birds released back into the wild to add to the growing population.

“This is the second-best year on record for breeding in the wild. 175 eggs were collected this season, while another 66 were left to hatch in their nests.”

Ms Mischler says 39 wild breeding pairs of kakī were identified this season – the most on record.

“This season, 54% of the wild breeding pairs laid eggs on private land. The success of the programme relies on support from landowners, who have really got behind efforts to protect these special birds and often let us know where they have been setting up nests.”

Many of the landowners in the Mackenzie Basin are partners in conservation project Te Manahuna Aoraki, which has extended trapping across 80% of the kakī range.

Braemar Station owner, Hamish Mackenzie says: “Being involved in Te Manahuna Aoraki has meant we are working together as partners, and we are really enjoying seeing more kakī around.

“To be able to say you have the rarest wading bird in the world living and breeding on your property is really exciting.”

Te Manahuna Aoraki Project Manager, Simone Smits says landowners are helping to protect kakī by allowing access for trapping, ensuring there is healthy wetland habitat and alerting DOC rangers when they spot nesting birds.

Kakī are vulnerable to mammalian predators, so an extensive trapping network is a key part of the efforts to ensure the species survival.

Since 2018, Te Manahuna Aoraki has installed more than 2000 traps in the Tasman, Cass, Godley and Macauley river valleys.

The extra traps added to DOC and Project River Recovery’s (Meridian Energy and Genesis Energy) existing network in the Tasman River increasing the trapping network from 26,000ha, to more than 60,000 ha. These trapping networks are on both public land, and private land.

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