Last month Aoraki/Mt Cook and Te Manahuna/Twizel staff had the privilege of releasing Tiaki the Kea back to his mountain home in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park. This has come after over a month of care and rehabilitation by the South Island Wildlife Hospital and our staff. It was an incredible experience to see what can only be described as his pure joy at being back in his mountain home, calling out as he flew over the ridge to reunite with his family group. Jemma Welch tells us about Tiaki’s journey to recovery.
In March, staff in the Aoraki/Mt Cook Visitors Centre were told by a concerned visitor of a Kea who “seemed drunk” up near the Red Tarns. Ranger Mel Helsby ventured the hour up the track to investigate and found the young Kea lethargic and bordering on unresponsive, despite Kea being notoriously active and curious. He didn’t react until she was a metre away when he made a clumsy and uncoordinated stumble to move away.
With a background in wildlife rehabilitation, Mel knew something had to be done. After consulting with veterinarian Pauline Howard from the South Island Wildlife Hospital, Mel monitored him throughout the night, administering fluids at regular intervals, as per instructions. The next morning, she brought him to our office in Te Manahuna/Twizel where rangers Cora Heister and myself, delivered him to Pauline in Christchurch.
Pauline confirmed our suspicions Tiaki had lead poisoning. Pauline set to work to remove all the lead from his system – a process taking several weeks known as chelation – and ensured he was in perfect condition for release. He was fitted with a transmitter and banded (black X on yellow) by Kea Scientist Corey Mosen. This is so we can keep track of his whereabouts following his release. Tiaki means look after, protection, safeguarding in Māori.
Tiaki was picked up Saturday afternoon and cared for overnight in Twizel by myself and ranger Jamie Cooper. We took him up to Aoraki/Mt Cook at the break of a stunning Sunday morning where we were joined by Mel, Cora and fellow ranger Ben McKay. Mel had been keeping track of his family group and we decided that it would be best to release him back at the Red Tarns, well within his family’s range where they could be reunited. After the hour-long trek up to the Tarns we released him just after 9am. He bounded out of his cage and, after a few short hops, jumps and flights up to the ridgeline, he did one final flight over the top and out of our sight.
A huge thank you to all those involved in Tiaki’s care especially Pauline and the team at the South Island Wildlife Hospital! If anyone sees a Kea or other native wildlife in distress or discomfort it is important to bring it to the attention of our staff in the local area as soon as possible so they can arrange the appropriate care.