Second Nature: An update from Nicola Toki

Department of Conservation —  19/04/2016

By Nicola Toki, Threatened Species Ambassador

The cooler weather certainly hasn’t slowed people down in the world of threatened species. With a national Kiwi Hui, a ‘green carpet’ movie premiere and the best breeding season on record for kākāpō, there’s barely time to take a breath.

Kākāpō-tastic breeding season

This year has been a bonanza breeding season for kākāpō – coinciding with rimu and beech mast events on Codfish and Anchor Islands – and it also resulted in successful breeding attempts on Little Barrier/Hauturu – the first time ever there has been simultaneous breeding efforts on all three kākāpō islands. (Sadly the chicks on Little Barrier/Hauturu did not survive).

Kākāpō chick 'Zephyr2' on Whenua Hou.

This wee kākāpō chick, named Zephyr2 for now, was our last chick to hatch this season. Photo: Andrew Digby (DOC)

In all, 37 chicks now survive, after some early losses which included a flash flood event on Anchor Island that took out two nests and three chicks, much to everyone’s dismay. However, 37 chicks is the best number on record since the kākāpō recovery programme began – a great sign for their ultimate recovery.

There has been a lot of national and international interest – including stories in the Economist, and New Scientist, documenting DOC’s work with kākāpō, and also highlighting New Zealand scientists’ efforts to sequence the genome of every single kākāpō, which would greatly assist our management of this species.

In the next few weeks, there will be plenty more kākāpō stories around, and in addition I highly recommend following the Kākāpō Recovery Programme Facebook page, as well as DOC scientist Andrew Digby’s twitter feed @takapodigs for as-it-happens updates on kākāpō stuff.

Crocs footwear on Whenua Hou.

I think crocs must be part of hygiene requirements for rangers and volunteers on Whenua Hou (surely that many people can’t all have appalling taste in footwear)?

As an aside, perhaps DOC should issue the rangers with snorkels, as the tracks between nests have been very flooded (including having eels swimming along the tracks!), making it extremely wet work for the volunteers, scientists and rangers on the islands.

Kiwi hui

Earlier this month I attended the annual national Kiwi Hui, a meeting organised in partnership between Kiwis for kiwi and DOC. This meeting was an impressive gathering of ‘who’s who’ in the world of kiwi including local iwi representatives, kiwi community groups, rangers, scientists, trapping experts, zoo staff, wildlife park staff, marketing/tourism experts and a conservation psychologist. Even Rein the kiwi detection dog was there to learn about where we’re at with kiwi conservation efforts.

It was a fascinating couple of days, with talks on everything from kiwi genetics (and the importance of preserving the different types of kiwi) to the significance of good pest control, including Battle for our Birds. I also enjoyed talks on scientific advances in monitoring kiwi calls, as well as a really engaging session on tangata whenua and their connection and responsibilities to kiwi.

I participated in a series of talks on kiwi advocacy – that is, what is the best way to engage people with kiwi and the story of kiwi?  How we connect to our nature is something that I’m really interested in, and am excited to be chairing a group of passionate people to look into this for kiwi.

How do you all want to hear or learn about kiwi and the challenges they face? I’d love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below.

Rein the kiwi conservation dog with handler Iain Graham.

Rein is one of our fantastic Conservation Dogs, and a hard-working four-legged kiwi ranger

Celebrating our own Wilderpeople

If you’ve been living under a rock this month, you may have missed the release of kiwi film Hunt for the Wilderpeople, directed by Taika Waititi.

We were lucky enough to be approached by the film and offered some spaces at the Auckland ‘green carpet’ premiere of the film as a bit of a ‘thank you’ for the work we do.  So we ran an internal competition asking people to send in their best ranger story, and Sian Reynolds and Rose Graham won tickets to the event.

I also got together with Julian Dennison, star of Hunt for the Wilderpeople  and his brother Christian (and their whole family!) to launch a competition for kids to draw their favourite threatened species.  We had some really neat entries, including drawings of blue ducks and Maui dolphins. Sophia Blyth (9) of Wellington, won with her awesome collage of a kiwi, and Ben Cave (11) of Nelson was our runner-up, who won a GoodNature trap, with this awesome picture of a kea.

Ben Cave’s winning kea picture.

Ben Cave’s winning kea picture

Critter of the week

In case you haven’t heard it, once a week Jesse Mulligan and I chat about some of New Zealand’s less charismatic threatened species on a slot on RNZ Afternoons, called Critter of the Week (don’t let the name mislead you, I’ve snuck a few plants in there too). This is lots of fun, and we get a heap of listener feedback on the threatened species we feature every Friday afternoon. ‘Critter’ has been running for six months now, and Jesse often says it’s his favourite segment. Mostly we do it by phone interview, but this month, while I was in Auckland, Jesse and I finally got to meet in real life to record in the studio, and it was great fun.

Jesse Mulligan in the Radio New Zealand studio.

Jesse and I finally catch up in real life after being phone-friends for months. (Judging by the clock behind us, Jesse really needs to get a wriggle on, his show starts at 1pm).

Not only do I have the help of scientists, rangers and other members of the community, but Mike Dickison of the Whanganui Museum is a ‘wikinerd’, and each week, he and his fellow experts fill up the relevant Wikipedia page for the critter we’re talking about, and reference our interviews for those who want to listen.  Thanks heaps Mike and friends!

Air New Zealand Twitter Q&A

This month, our partners Air New Zealand piloted a one-hour twitter event called #AskNicToki where anyone could ‘tweet’ a question about nature for me to answer. It was a bit nerve-wracking (I don’t actually know everything about nature!) but I was lucky to have plenty of support on hand, and it was a positive event that I really enjoyed. We’re looking to run it again later in the year, so I look forward to answering all your burning questions about nature then.

Tweet from Air New Zealand about the Q&A.

My first Twitter Q&A

Kim Hill debate – ‘Which species should we save?’

I also participated in a debate for Lincoln Envirotown, entitled ‘Which species should we save?’, which was chaired by Kim Hill and featured panellists from Lincoln University, Ngai Tahu, Landcare Research and the Endangered Species Foundation.  It was very well attended (full house!) although I think we all made life a bit difficult for Kim, since all panellists agreed that we couldn’t in fact choose one species over another, and should focus on ecosystems instead. Thanks to the hardworking Lincoln Envirotown team for organising such a great and popular event, I really enjoyed being a part of it.

Get in touch

It’s been another busy month in the world of threatened species, but conservation waits for no man (or woman). Feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll be back next month with more updates.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. 10,000 Birds | Kakapo are having a great year. - April 27, 2016

    […] This year was a good year for the species. 47 chicks were hatched, of which at the time of writing 37 chicks are still alive. This monumental achievement was down to the Kakapo, but also an army of dedicated volunteers and Department of Conservation employees who have braved terrible weather (including floods) and long days and nights to actively monitor every nest and act every time a chick was at risk. Some chicks are being hand reared, some reared by their mothers. There is still a way to go, but slowly, oh so slowly, the tide is turning. […]