Second Nature: An update from Nicola Toki

Department of Conservation —  23/02/2016

nic-toki-profileBy Nicola Toki, Threatened Species Ambassador

Summer is a really busy time in the world of threatened species, so I’ve been racing all over the country to catch up on some of our work, attend events and meet some of the awesome people who are doing their bit for our nature.

New Zealand sea lion pups

In late January, I headed down to my old stomping ground of Dunedin, where throughout the coastal Otago area, we have seen some heartening signs of New Zealand sea lion pups being born in good numbers. This has kept our rangers very busy as they try to keep up with where these wee mammals are.

Where possible we try to tag and microchip the pups so we can monitor the population on the mainland and work out which pup is which. For one of the pups on the Otago Peninsula, the DOC team, New Zealand Sea Lion Trust and a local farmer, who along with his grandson had been keeping an eye on it. It’s a neat experience to chat to the farmer to hear that he lifts his fences down near the beach at this time of year to let the mother into the pine forest to give birth. Watch the news story about the new sea lion pup on the TVNZ website.

A sea lion pup amongst pine trees.

Sea lion pups aren’t what people expect to find among the pines!

Further down the coast in the tiny seaside community of Kaka Point, the DOC team have been thrilled with the dedication of the visiting Morris family from Christchurch, who had the amazing experience of a mother sea lion giving birth under their crib (that’s ‘bach’ for non-Southlanders), while they were on holiday there. This is the first pup to be born in that area and is a very exciting occasion. The family took on the responsibility of keeping in touch with DOC and watching the mother, called Matariki and her brand new pup under the house. The DOC team were extremely grateful for the love and attention paid by the kids. One of the children, Regan, wrote a diary of their experience.

Diary excerpt from Regan Morris:


My Uncle Geoff, his family and another family were staying at the beach house at Kaka Point when a sea lion came to the property, by the clothes line, then looked through the glass door and then went under the house. Geoff said he got a hell of a fright.


My Grandfather, Grandmother, Cameron, Todd and I came to Kaka Point to visit our cousins for the day and sure enough, I saw a sea lion under the house and then it went under the back deck. We couldn’t believe it! Geoff phoned the Department of Conservation (DOC), to let them know and to get some advice. We left that evening to Gore.


We came back to the beach house to stay with Mum and Dad, who had come back to stay and found a very rare event had occurred, IT HAD GIVEN BIRTH! (On January 4). A DOC ranger came to check on the pup, and thought the sea lion would go out to sea in three-four days time to feed and leave the pup behind. That evening I saw the pup feeding on milk.


Today the pup seemed more active and it is only a matter of time before the sea lion goes out to sea.

The Morris kids with their DOC certificates.

The Morris kids with their DOC certificates for helping to look after Matariki and her pup

The whole Kaka Point community got behind Matariki and her pup. Their support included police escorts for her crossing the road, the surf lifeguards ensuring she had safe passage to the beach, and the wider community ensuring that dogs could not get her and her new pup. Thanks so much from all of us to this community for their consideration and care!

Sadly, in January we also discovered an adult sea lion had been shot further down the coast. Over the years we have experienced repeated examples of sea lion shootings, which is extremely disappointing. The New Zealand sea lion is in the same threat category as the kākāpō and should be loved and protected just as much.

Royal cam

While I was in Dunedin, I was also very proud to help launch Royal cam, the live streaming web cam on our northern royal albatross family at Taiaroa Head.

It wasn’t all glamorous though – as I discovered helping to clean the lens on the day we launched (a raging southerly, which the ranger pointed out was great weather for albatross, but not great weather for a media launch).

Nicola Toki cleaning the royal cam lens.

Cleaning the royal cam lens

This live action footage of the growth of one of our precious royal albatross chicks has proven extremely popular. The Royal cam page on the DOC website has had over 63,000 views since we launched it a couple of weeks ago. The public response on the page has been fantastic, with strong engagement from people watching here and across the world. John Campbell on Checkpoint fell a wee bit in love with our albatross too (you can watch that interview here and social media has also picked it up strongly (see #royalcam). Even the cruise ship companies are making the most of the spectacular views to be seen from the camera.

A cruise ship spotted on royal cam.

A cruise ship spotted on royal cam

This opportunity came together through a fantastic collaboration starting with the albatross ranger Lyndon Perriman, our amazing web team and the rangers who set up Kaka Cam from the Wellington City Council (WCC). The WCC team flew down to Dunedin to help set up our cam, staying at a DOC staffer’s house for the weekend, and continued to help us with technical advice throughout. We also had support from the Dunedin City Council, Dunedin Enterprise, Otago Peninsula Trust and the Pukekura Management Committee. Thanks!

Great spotted kiwi release

This month I was also invited to attend a release of a great spotted kiwi chick into the wild by the Paparoa Wildlife Trust.

Jo Halley and Nicola Toki releasing a kiwi in to its new home.

Jo Halley of the Paparoa Wildlife Trust and I just before releasing Pino into his new home

Tucked under the shadow of the Paparoa Ranges, eighty enthusiastic West Coasters made their way to the predator-proof crèche to see the kiwi before we released him to a safe spot in the wild. It was a fantastic experience, and I was really impressed with the dedication and care of the Paparoa Wildlife Trust, DOC and the local community who in true West Coast fashion are doing all they can to make sure that the great spotted kiwi have a better chance of survival in their area.



2 responses to Second Nature: An update from Nicola Toki

    wayne Thomas 27/02/2016 at 12:49 pm

    i like what you are doing there but surely not at the sacriflice of the other side of the experiment,or am i reading this wrong.please if you have a moment can you have a look at the ,alarm clock nz page on facebook


    We have Australasian bittern living in our swamp. We are trying to protect this 5 hectare swamp. Last year we heard lots of boom, boom, boom, and some times saw three birds together. This year we only seen one solo bittern and no mating calls. I heard Nicola on National Radio talking and she was interested in hearing and seeing these rare birds.

    Katie Kent