Rare birds released on pest-free islands

06:33, Aug 27 2011
Russell Greenwood
Russell Greenwood, of the Motutapu Restoration Trust.

Two jewels of Auckland's Hauraki Gulf were further enriched today with the release of two of the country's rarest birds.

Motutapu and Rangitoto islands were today officially declared pest-free wildlife sanctuaries following a successful eradication programme that first started 20 years ago.

They will now become home to takahe, with aims to have them house the largest population of takahe outside of Fiordland.

DOC has removed nine animal species from the islands. Possums and wallabies were eradicated in the 1990s. Ship rats, Norway rats, stoats, mice, feral cats, hedgehogs and rabbits have now been removed with the completion of a major eradication operation that began in June 2009.

To mark the occasion Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson made the first release of threatened native wildlife on Motutapu Island -  including two breeding pairs of takahë and 20 saddleback.

Both are species brought back from the brink of extinction.

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"There are only 250 takahe left in the world and that we are able to release them in a safe sanctuary here in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park is testament to the fantastic work the Department of Conservation has undertaken to rid these islands of pests," said Wilkinson.

"Motutapu and Rangitoto will now play a significant role in protecting our most endangered wildlife.

"Takahe were thought to be extinct until rediscovered in Fiordland in 1948. The grassland on Motutapu provides a good feeding ground for takahadië and the island is big enough to hold up to 20 breeding pair. This would make it the largest population of takahë outside Fiordland."

 As many as 30 species of threatened native wildlife are expected to be released onto the islands in the future, including kiwi, hihi or stitchbird, tuatara and several species of native reptile.

 "Ridding Rangitoto and Motutapu of pests marks a major conservation achievement as it creates New Zealand's second largest pest-free sanctuary covering more than 3800 hectares combined," Wilkinson said today.

"As well as creating a valuable new conservation asset the investment in making Rangitoto and Motutapu pest-free sanctuaries will provide a tourism drawcard.

 "Having rare and precious wildlife living on these iconic islands, just 30 minutes by ferry from downtown Auckland, enhances their appeal as a tourist destination for visitors from throughout the country and overseas."

Auckland Now