Cattle stomp in critically-endangered bird habitat
Cattle have been spotted grazing and defecating near a breeding area for one of the world's most endangered birds.
An environmental lobby group says it is a terrible look for the Mackenzie ecological area.
A marauding cattle herd was photographed last month walking freely along the Hopkins river bed, near Mount Cook.
They had unrestricted access to the river bed, which breaks the rules of the property's pastoral lease.
Poo could be seen scattered amongst the otherwise untarnished landscape beneath the Southern Alps.
The area is home to the kaki/black stilt, the world's rarest wading bird. There are between 70 and 90 adult kaki in the wild.
It is one step away from extinction.
Kaki breed exclusively in the braided rivers around the Mackenzie Basin.
The photos were taken during nesting season, in which kaki lay their eggs in nests near the river bed.
"It's the only place, really, where [kaki] can go and breed. There's nowhere else in the world," said Forest & Bird's Canterbury conservation manager Jen Miller.
"They're critically endangered and they're intensely managed, but their numbers are not going back up.
"They don't need this grief."
Unlike most other critically endangered birds, kaki live freely in the open and do not migrate. They are particularly vulnerable to predators.
Miller said allowing cattle to wander into sensitive areas was widespread in the region, with similar examples seen near the Haast River and at the North Canterbury property co-owned by businessman Hugh Fletcher and chief justice Dame Sian Elias.
"It's just no longer acceptable. There are more cattle in the high country than there used to be, so it's an increasing problem."
She said the Department of Conservation (DOC), which is tasked with protecting the kaki under legislation, needed to take responsibility.
DOC operations manager Sally Jones said she visited the area on Monday and there were no cattle.
She said the area was south of the area where kaki were typically found.
DOC's black stilt recovery programme has a budget of about $200,000 per year, largely spent on its captive breeding centre near Twizel.
The cattle were walking along a river bed, which is publicly owned and managed by Land Information New Zealand (Linz).
A Linz spokeswoman said it had yet to confirm who owned the cattle, but the property's pastoral lease did not allow cattle to stand in the river bed.
Lease holders were responsible for keeping their cattle contained. Linz would be speaking with the lease holder, the spokeswoman said.
Kaki used to be common throughout New Zealand, and were widely seen in the North Island.
Since the introduction of predators by Europeans, the population spiralled downwards – first becoming restricted to the South Island and then to the Mackenzie Basin.
By 1981, there were 23 kaki left.
An intervention saved the species from extinction, but there are still fewer than 100 left in the wild.
They can fly long distances, but typically stay in Mackenzie, where there are fewer predators.
They have been spotted in North Canterbury, and last week DOC confirmed the first ever recorded kaki sighting on the West Coast.