We caught up with Tim, a ranger on the front lines of the Save Our Iconic Kiwi initiative.
A new injection of funding has come into kiwi conservation under the banner “Save Our Iconic Kiwi”. Kiwi populations around the country are declining at an average of about 2% a year – quite a serious situation. It’s mostly due to predation upon kiwi chicks by stoats, cats, dogs etc. The goal for Save Our Iconic Kiwi is to turn this decline around, so that every type of kiwi is increasing at 2% a year.
Some populations are already doing this – for example, the Coromandel North Island brown kiwi, and the small but growing populations of Haast tokoeka and rowi on the West Coast. However there are still widespread, largely unmanaged populations, particularly in the South Island. In Fiordland, there is an extensive but dwindling population of southern and northern Fiordland tokoeka spread across maybe a million hectares of rugged terrain. Protecting thousands of birds over such a remote and rough area is a huge challenge. On this scale, and in this environment, we’re not going to be able to cover enough ground through trapping. We think the best and most cost effective tool we currently have available is aerial 1080.
Aerial 1080 dropped every few years has been shown to increase the kiwi population at Tongariro in the North Island. However in South Island beech forests we may have to change the pest management regime to suit the different habits of Southern tokoeka and to match the frequency of stoat plagues. We know from projects like Battle for our Birds that aerial 1080 can reduce stoats to very low numbers. We also know that stoats can be at such low numbers that we can’t detect them on tracking cards, and yet still be killing kiwi chicks – the chicks are that vulnerable.
At Shy Lake, we’re setting up a new project to monitor the survival of kiwi chicks over the next five years or more. During this time we’ll distribute 1080 in the area and compare kiwi survival in years with and without 1080. There’s no direct risk to the kiwi from the 1080. If we find that aerial 1080 does allow the kiwi population to grow, then we’ll know that we’ve got a good tool to roll out across big areas of Fiordland. One little project on one peninsula isn’t going to do the job – we need to think big.
The site at Shy Lake is very remote. We chose it partly because of that – it has never received any pest control before. Many of the areas bordering the road and lakes have received trapping or other pest control for years, and while this is great conservation, it muddies the waters scientifically in terms of predator dynamics. We wanted an area that represents the vast wilderness that is still untouched by conservation efforts, but holds thousands of kiwi. Shy Lake holds good densities of adult kiwi, and is a little less rugged than many other catchments in the area – in places at least. This makes it a workable site to run a project of this kind.
Having chosen the site, phase one for us is to catch some adult kiwi and attach radio transmitters to their legs.
This is the first post in a series about Tim’s work, follow the Conservation Blog to keep up to date on his progress.