Ruahine Whio Protectors – 10 years of trapping

Department of Conservation —  16/08/2021

Pohangina Base, a former DOC Field Centre in the Manawatu District now run as bookable accommodation, was jam-packed for the last weekend in July for the annual get together of some very special people.

Although they gather here every year, close to the Ruahine mountains, the 2021 celebration was different. It marks the 10th anniversary of the formation of the group, whose members check traps in the Oroua/Pohangina/Rangiwahia network. The traps have an important purpose; to protect the North Island’s southern-most whio population.

Whio/blue duck. Photo: Sabine Bernert ©

The Oroua Blue Duck Protection Project was started by the Manawatū branch of the Deerstalkers Association with the help of Andrew Mercer and Kelly Hancock, both still work for DOC in the Lower North Island region. Three years later the trap network needed a new group of people to service them, and this is where Janet Wilson stepped in. Volunteers were advertised for and Janet “vetted” them and got a schedule going so that people could get out to the trap lines and check the DOC 200s regularly. This just one of Janet’s activities, amongst many, as a key part of the Ruahine Whio Protectors.

Volunteers Steve and Mary Bielski (second and third from left are) who were out walking while the rest of us were eating cake

The lines have expanded over time and extended right around the Tunupo tops, beyond Triangle Hut, around the Rangiwahia/Deadmans track circuit and on the eastern ridges beyond Longview Hut. Flooding along the rivers has washed away traps on occasion, calling for re-thinks about the location and types of traps used. A24 traps have been established as an alternative in places including along much of the Pohangina River. The group also participates in trials of mustelid lures which are being developed by Patrick Garvey of Landcare Research/Manaaki Whenua. Volunteers staying at the recently refurbished Iron Gate Hut (a much appreciated facility) are sometimes rewarded with whio sightings.

Janet Wilson blows out the candles on the 10th anniversary cake.

Janet was joined by long standing members Graham Peters, Gordon Groube (who checks the Oroua Triangle Line), Yvette Cottam (who also checks the traps at Te Potae o Awarua), Warren Wheeler and Richard Lockett. Steve and Mary Bielski have also been trapping since way back, concentrating on the Rangiwahia lines and advocating for further predator control in that area.

Malcolm Thomas, Ernie Cook, Duncan Foord, Graeme Richards, David Middleditch, Kirsten Olsen, Stephen Legg and Michelle Benton have also joined the crew along the way. Geoff Richie was also at the gathering, representing the trapping volunteers who service the traps in the lowland Horowhenua reserves. Chris Tuffley, Ian Rasmussen, Sue Moore, Emma Greig, Anthony Behrens, Fiona Burleigh and Paul Dekker couldn’t make it that night but also deserve thanks for their significant work within this group and other conservation work in this district and beyond.

Mike Shepherd from Ashhurst/ Ōtangaki is usually present but, as an athletics coach, he was busy watching the Olympics! He has coordinated the Ashhurst Stoat Trapping volunteers to check the 109 DOC 200s in Te Āpiti, the Manawatū Gorge for twelve years. Long standing successful trapping groups seem to flourish in the beautiful Manawatū. 

Janet gets ready to cut the cake with the Oroua Blue Duck Protection Project volunteers

Thank you so much to all these devoted people who give up their free time to protect native species in demanding conditions. We hope to work with you all for many more years.

5 responses to Ruahine Whio Protectors – 10 years of trapping


    This are the birds that is usually getting hunted. Perfect size and weight. So it is rightful to protect this.


    When I see kiwi, it reminds me of dodo birds who went extinct since 1681. Let us support the conservation of these wonderful birds.



    It is so nice and heartwarming to see handful of people care to make a change.
    Following the path of Richard Henry (bumped into this article I`m taking my hat off to you all!


    So exciting to read this post. Encountered my first whio as a teenager tramping up the Styx River valley behind my home town of Hokitika. It inspired me to a lifetime love of tramping and a long career in conservation. Congrats to you all on your wonderful achievements.

    Alasdair Bettles-Hall 16/08/2021 at 6:43 pm

    Great work! Well done to all…