Kea treading along an endangered path
There are as few kea left in the world as there are tigers, and think how much is being spent on saving tigers.
That's the message from the Kea Conservation Fund when it comes to the future of New Zealand's native parrot.
Trust chairwoman Tamsin Orr-Walker and scientific adviser Lorne Roberts discussed their work last night in Timaru at a New Zealand Alpine Club meeting.
The kea population stood at between 1000 and 5000 but research on four separate populations indicated numbers were decreasing.
In the 1990s 11 breeding pairs were rearing 10 chicks a year in a 7000-hectare area of the Nelson Lakes. Ten years later that area was checked twice and only three pairs were found. Those birds were raising two chicks annually.
While the actual number of birds in the wild was unknown, Ms Orr-Walker said people frequently said they weren't seeing as many kea as they had in the past. The age of the birds was also a concern. Whereas they should live to about 30, many were dying when only four or five years old.
Decrease in numbers appeared to be the result of several factors including lead poisoning (from eating the lead off nails in high country huts), degraded environment and predation from stoats and possums.
"It would be such a tragedy if we lost them, they are so charismatic," Ms Orr-Walker said.
The trust was working on several projects it hoped would help protect kea, including a bird repellent to be included in all 1080 poison. A farmer near Queenstown was working with the trust, trialling a spray that should keep the birds away from sheep.
The kea can smell the compound and when they ingest the material they feel sick. Dr Roberts hoped the birds would come to associate the smell with becoming unwell, and stay away from the flock.
The birds' intelligence can be their undoing. A Conservation Department worker spent days laying 200 stoat traps in the remote Murchison Valley, as stoats are a major predator of young kea.
The keas always remained some distance behind him. It was only when all the traps were set that he realised what the birds had been doing – using a stick to set them off.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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