Kiwi coming home to the West

CIARA PRATT
Last updated 05:00 31/01/2013
Ark in the Park
MILESTONE: Mark Bellingham of the Ark in the Park project which has been operating for 10 years and has plans to bring kiwi back to the Waitakeres.
Kiwi
Kiwi comeback: The kiwi may soon be calling the Waitakere Ranges home again.

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Kiwi could be calling the Waitakere Ranges home for the first time in more than 20 years soon.

Ark in the Park, an open sanctuary for native birds, plans to re-introduce a number of New Zealand native species to the forest including kiwi, kakariki and rifleman.

Kiwi were last introduced to the Waitakere Ranges between 1979 and 1980 but because of the lack of pest control knowledge they were wiped out within three years.

Dr Mark Bellingham has been a volunteer with Ark in the Park since it began and is also the North Island conservation manager for Forest and Bird.

He says introducing kiwi into the forest is in the Ark's long-term plan.

"Kiwi these days have trackers and we have much better pest control whereas back then there wasn't as much knowledge about pests such as stoats, so they weren't as protected."

Dr Bellingham says it is not known yet when kiwi will be in the Waitakere Ranges but Ark people are pworking with the Conservation Department to ensure it will be a safe environment for kiwi.

Ark in the Park is a partnership between Forest and Bird and Auckland Council, and has relied on volunteers to keep operating over the past 10 years.

It was started in 2003 on just 250ha with the aim of restoring functioning native ecosystems with the help of pest control and the re-introducing native animals and plants lost from the Waitakere Ranges.

It now covers about 2300ha and is home to birds such as the kokako, North Island robin, whitehead and tomtits.

This area is surrounded by an 800ha pest-control buffer zone maintained with the help of private residents.

Dr Bellingham says the help of volunteers and neighbouring people has greatly contributed to the rising number of native bird species in the Ark.

"We've got such a big area, we can use it as a core for protecting wildlife and I think over the next few years our plan will be focusing on doing more wildlife releases now that we have a successful big space," he says.

Ecologist field officer in the Ark Andy Warneford says the increased number of birds shows that the project is working.

He says the rare kokako species has flourished with "conservative estimates" putting the number of at 100 birds after starting with 26.

Mr Warneford believes kiwi will be in the Waitakere Ranges within the next few years.

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"I definitely think it's likely in the medium-to-long-term future.

"Kiwi would be high on the shopping list."

- Western Leader

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