Kids and whio – a whi-nominal combo!

Department of Conservation —  12/06/2018

What’s the link between an ancient genus of duck which can cruise below the water like a submarine and a Toyota Kiwi Guardian site? Ranger Abi Whitman explores. 

When I learned Whio awareness month was in April this year, I secretly did a fist-pump. This would mean I could potentially set up a whio awareness event at a Toyota Kiwi Guardian adventure site which is a whio habitat AND it would be school holidays … three birds with one stone (oops, can a DOC worker say that?)

What is a “whio” anyway? Whio are a beautiful blue/grey duck which live in the torrents of mountain rivers in the North and South Islands. They are also known as blue duck and ko whio whio.

Whio, the beautiful blue duck. 📷: Herb Christophers

There are fewer whio than kiwi in New Zealand, so they are a very precious taonga. Like so many native birds, they are susceptible to mustelid predation and in the Ruahine Mountains of the Manawatū District, we are lucky to have a collective of amazing volunteer and iwi groups who work tirelessly with DOC to protect whio.

Fun whio fact: they’re an ancient species of waterfowl with mystery DNA; their closest relative is a duck in South America.

I decided to hold an event on the 24 April in the area near the Oroua River, where 10-12 whio are believed to be living, and the Alice Nash Memorial Heritage Lodge which is a Toyota Kiwi Guardians adventure site.

Toyota Kiwi Guardians is a national conservation programme which helps families and Kiwi kids explore New Zealand’s outdoors and take action for the benefit of conservation. It’s a joint effort between Toyota New Zealand and DOC.

As part of the event, we travelled across farmland, over a really cool bridge and into the beech forest. There was an option to look at the Alice Nash Memorial Heritage Lodge or go all the way down to the river.

Along the way there were “whio facts” posted on trees and a group of hanging eggs with letters on them spelling the name of the River at the bottom of the track (O-R-O-U-A). Blue wrapped muesli bars were provided to get the families on their way.

Our volunteers, Blair and Jaykob, helped by handing out Toyota Kiwi Guardians hats and water bottles, setting out and clearing up signs and checking the track. For these volunteers, it was their first time in this area of the Ruahines and they did a great job; thanks team!  Volunteers get to try all sorts of tasks in the Manawatū!

Volunteer Blair with one of the families that made it to the Toyota Kiwi Guardian post. They all received a TKG cap!

Even though the weather wasn’t great, the families that came along went all the way down to the river, even though most of the children were under 10!

To help with the climb back up the track I provided some blue tongue painter lollipops (see that blue theme again?) and some Toyota Kiwi Guardian stickers and tattoos.

Although we didn’t see any whio, we know that they are living in that area, helped hugely by the Ruahine Whio Protectors. It was a wonderful day, thanks to everyone who took part or helped us make this possible. We think it’s really important to connect kids with nature through programmes like Toyota Kiwi Guardians, and to ensure that our beautiful whio are looked after and protected.

Genesis and the Department of Conservation have partnered together in a national programme to secure the future of this threatened native bird. Operating under the name of Whio Forever, this partnership has been implementing a national recovery plan to protect whio breeding areas and habitat.

Hopefully some of these kids might join DOC or the Ruahine Whio Protectors when they’re older, until then there are more Toyota Kiwi Guardian adventures and activities to complete!