On Halloween anyone hanging around the Orokonui Ecosanctuary near Dunedin may have heard something eerie in the night. The last weekend of October saw kiwi calling in Otago for the first time in 130 years! Eight Haast tokoeka moved into the neighbourhood on Saturday 30th October.
The Haast Kiwi Team had their work cut out catching these birds on predator free islands in Fiordland where they have been safely housed since removal from the Haast Tokoeka Sanctuary as eggs. The team set off onboard the Adventurer 1 (Adventure Kayak & Cruise) using radio telemetry to narrow down the search for transmittered birds on Rona Island in Lake Manapouri.
The Pomona Island Charitable Trust keep Pomona and Rona islands predator free, as sanctuaries for vulnerable native species. Trust Secretary Vivian Shaw lent a helping hand to the team catching six tokoeka from Rona. They needed all the hands they could get for the last bird on the list, Brewer Rocks. Late in the day and running out of time the team almost had to give up on Brewer Rocks who was giving them the real run around. Fortunately kiwi dog Tussock was able to move through the undergrowth faster than the human searchers. He pointed out the bird for kiwi ranger Blair to make a last ditch attempt and catch him. With all eight tokoeka safely housed in travel boxes the team set off the next day for Orokonui.
The Otago Natural History Trust erected 8.7km of pest-proof fence in 2007 creating 307ha of protected habitat for native species within the ecosanctuary. Department of Conservation Biodiversity Programme Manager Gareth Hopkins heard about the sanctuary while looking for a safe haven to establish an insurance population of Haast tokoeka and saw great potential. A benefit of this location is its accessibility, “as a fenced sanctuary on the mainland Orokonui will provide an ideal opportunity for community participation in conservation of endangered species” says Haast Kiwi Team Leader Neil Freer.
Representatives of Te Runanga o Makaawhio lead by Upoko (chief) Rev Richard Wallace were pleased to hand the tokoeka over to the care of local Kati Huirapa Runaka ki Puketeraki.
With friends in high places, Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson flew in to see the tokoeka safely settled in their new home.
There is a lot of responsibility resting on the tiny shoulders of these eight tokoeka. As founders of a new population on the mainland it’s hoped they will help protect the endangered Haast tokoeka from extinction. “This release marks a huge step towards securing the survival of a unique and iconic taonga species” says Gareth Hopkins “it is a culmination of many years of sensitive negotiation and consultation, and illustrates just what communities and the Department of Conservation can achieve when they work together”.