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Haast tokoeka - Photo Stephen Jaquiery

On Halloween anyone hanging around the Orokonui Ecosanctuary near Dunedin may have heard something eerie in the night. The last weekend of October saw kiwi calling in Otago for the first time in 130 years! Eight Haast tokoeka moved into the neighbourhood on Saturday 30th October.

Telemetry from the boat - Photo Stephen Jaquiery

The Haast Kiwi Team had their work cut out catching these birds on predator free islands in Fiordland where they have been safely housed since removal from the Haast Tokoeka Sanctuary as eggs. The team set off onboard the Adventurer 1 (Adventure Kayak & Cruise) using radio telemetry to narrow down the search for transmittered birds on Rona Island in Lake Manapouri.

Bush bashing telemetry - Photo Stephen Jaquiery

The Pomona Island Charitable Trust keep Pomona and Rona islands predator free, as sanctuaries for vulnerable native species. Trust Secretary Vivian Shaw lent a helping hand to the team catching six tokoeka from Rona. They needed all the hands they could get for the last bird on the list, Brewer Rocks. Late in the day and running out of time the team almost had to give up on Brewer Rocks who was giving them the real run around. Fortunately kiwi dog Tussock was able to move through the undergrowth faster than the human searchers. He pointed out the bird for kiwi ranger Blair to make a last ditch attempt and catch him. With all eight tokoeka safely housed in travel boxes the team set off the next day for Orokonui.

Orokonui pest-proof fence - Photo Orokonui Ecosanctuary

The Otago Natural History Trust erected 8.7km of pest-proof fence in 2007 creating 307ha of protected habitat for native species within the ecosanctuary. Department of Conservation Biodiversity Programme Manager Gareth Hopkins heard about the sanctuary while looking for a safe haven to establish an insurance population of Haast tokoeka and saw great potential. A benefit of this location is its accessibility, “as a fenced sanctuary on the mainland Orokonui will provide an ideal opportunity for community participation in conservation of endangered species” says Haast Kiwi Team Leader Neil Freer.

Te Runanga o Makaawhio, Conservation Minister & Haast Kiwi Team introduce the tokoeka to their new home - Photo Claudia Babirat

Representatives of Te Runanga o Makaawhio lead by Upoko (chief) Rev Richard Wallace were pleased to hand the tokoeka over to the care of local Kati Huirapa Runaka ki Puketeraki.

Upoko David Ellison of Kati Huirapa Runaka te Puketeraki welcomes the tokoeka to Otago - Photo Claudia Babirat

With friends in high places, Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson flew in to see the tokoeka safely settled in their new home.

Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson releases tokoeka - Photo Claudia Babirat

There is a lot of responsibility resting on the tiny shoulders of these eight tokoeka.  As founders of a new population on the mainland it’s hoped they will help protect the endangered Haast tokoeka from extinction. “This release marks a huge step towards securing the survival of a unique and iconic taonga species” says Gareth Hopkins “it is a culmination of many years of sensitive negotiation and consultation, and illustrates just what communities and the Department of Conservation can achieve when they work together”.

Is there anybody out there…?

Down in deepest South Westland lives a kiwi called the Haast tokoeka. It was named for its oversized beak, and translated from Te Reo tokoeka means bird (weka) with a walking stick (toko).


Haast tokoeka kiwi footprints.

Haast tokoeka kiwi footprints


Tokoeka are under attack from introduced predators, particularly stoats, so their home between the Arawata and Waiatoto rivers is protected, as the Haast Tokoeka Sanctuary. The Sanctuary has been blitzed with intensive stoat trapping since 2001.


Kath Morris scans for breeding pairs of kiwi.

Kath Morris scans for breeding pairs of kiwi


Dedicated Haast tokoeka kiwi rangers follow the lives and loves of about one hundred pairs of adult tokoeka wearing radio-transmitters on their legs. That way they can protect the young birds through BNZ funded Operation Nest Egg.


Haast tokoeka egg removed from the sanctuary for captive incubation.

Haast tokoeka egg removed from the sanctuary for captive incubation



Haast tokoeka chick hatched at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve.

Haast tokoeka chick hatched at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve


The Sanctuary protects a stronghold of tokoeka in South Westland, but they are not alone in the world. Anecdotal accounts from hunters and locals led DOC to investigate further up the Arawata River and another population was found. Now the kiwi team wants to find and monitor more of these Sanctuary neighbours, so they can increase the gene pool for tokoeka conservation and extend their distribution in case of environmental disasters.

After all it’s better not to keep all your tokoeka eggs in one basket!

Instruments of detection

The extraordinary sensory perception of dogs’ shnozzes has been used for years to sniff out kiwi. Here in Haast our own Blair Hoult and kiwi-dog Tussock have found six new tokoeka together.


Blair & Tussock with a newly discovered kiwi.

Blair & Tussock add a newly discovered tokoeka to the monitoring regime


Both these methods are very labour intensive and it is helpful to know if there are tokoeka about before sending in the rangers. DOC’s Research and Development Team have developed a new device for recording bird calls, which has the potential to find new tokoeka with minimal time in the field.

Trainee Ranger Chris Bowen recently set off to test this new technology in the wilds of South Westland.

To test the reliability of recorders in the field Chris and Blair pulled on their beanies at dusk for a cold night listening beside a recorder set high up in the alpine tussock of the Sanctuary. Analysing the acoustic recording back in the office Chris found that it had picked up 78% of the calls he and Blair heard sitting on the mountain.


Chris Bowen with the new acoustic recorder.

Chris Bowen trials the new acoustic recorder


Next Chris used the recorders to search for new tokoeka outside the sanctuary. When he got them back in the office he was excited to find that one of the recorders had picked up a new pair serenading each other. Three days later Blair and contractor Chris Rickard headed into the same area with Chris’ kiwi dog. They caught and put a transmitter on a new adult female, which has been named Downpour Torrent after a nearby creek (it rains a lot here!).

Demonstrating that these recorders work well in the field is great news for managers trying to make savings. Whereas, staff time for one hundred hours of call listening costs DOC around $2000, an acoustic recorder will listen for one hundred hours for the price of four AA batteries.

The acoustic recorders are continuing to be trialled on various bird monitoring projects around New Zealand and will really improve efficiency. Technological advances in species monitoring free up valuable time and resources for DOC to protect more vulnerable species.


Last month we heard the good news that all the kiwi eggs at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve had survived the Christchurch quake and that little Richter the Rowi had hatched safely. Now at the start of October we’ve seen the happy arrival of the first Haast tokoeka chicks of the season.Haast tokoeka eggs are lifted from their parents’ nests every breeding season, as part of Bank of New Zealand funded Operation Nest Egg (ONE), so they can’t be munched by stoats.

Haast kiwi ranger Kath Morris up to her armpits in a tokoeka nest. Photo: Haast Tokoeka Kiwi Team.

Haast kiwi ranger Kath Morris up to her armpits in a tokoeka nest.

They travel all the way from Haast in South Westland to Christchurch where Corry-Ann Langford and a team of husbandry rangers at Willowbank care for them.

Shaun Horan weighs a tokoeka egg at Willowbank. Photo: Corry-Ann Langford.

Shaun Horan weighs a tokoeka egg at Willowbank

Last Thursday Corry-Ann told me that two of the eggs in her care IT#1 and BC#1 were in a race to be the first of this season’s tokoeka to break into the world. When the husbandry team left work for the day both chicks had started to hatch using their long beaks and strong feet to break the shell. Corry-Ann’s not sure who was first to the finish line, but it was very close and both little chicks were waiting for them when they got to work on Friday morning.

Two Haast tokoeka chicks. Photo: Corry-Ann Langford.

The chicks’ IDs come from their parents names. In Tune pair (named for nearby Tuning Fork Creek) has been providing eggs for ONE since 2004, but it’s the first year for Brewer Creek pair, as the male has only just been found again after dropping his transmitter. Kiwi team rangers Kath Morris and Blair Hoult lifted IT#1 and BC#1 out of the Haast Tokoeka Sanctuary back in August and they arrived safely at Willowbank on the Friday 13th! Apparently it is lucky for some.

It’s a real relief that these guys made it to hatch as they were alongside fifteen other tokoeka and rowi eggs that narrowly escaped being scrambled in the quake. Corry-Ann says they are absolutely adorable and funding partners the New Zealand Conservation Trust are thrilled with the great start to the season. Sixty five Haast tokoeka chicks have escaped the jaws of stoats and hatched safely at Willowbank since 2005.

Shaun Horan checks on brooding chicks. Photo Corry-Ann Langford.

Shaun Horan checks on brooding chicks

All the chicks hatched in captivity are either returned to the Sanctuary when they’re big enough to fight off stoats or transferred to insurance populations on predator free islands.

Since IT#1 and BC#1 made it out three more tokoeka chicks have hatched and the remaining seven are well on their way… but the season’s not over yet and the kiwi team in Haast are busy in the field lifting more eggs. IT#1 and BC#1 could have little brothers or sisters on the way, as their parents started early and the kiwi team are hoping both pairs will lay a second clutch.