Whio release major boost for rare endemic species

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 05:00 01/02/2014

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Five pairs of Christchurch-reared whio, or blue ducks, have been released into West Coast waterways.

The release on Thursday was part of ongoing work by the Department of Conservation (DOC) to boost whio numbers to 50 pairs in the Styx-Arahura-Taipo valleys - one of eight national security areas for the rare endemic duck.

Some of them were also released in the Paparoa Range as part of a community-based project to increase whio numbers.

Before their release, DOC rangers took four to Te Runanga o Ngati Waewae's Arahura Marae to introduce them to about 25 children on its school holiday programme, Fusion Wananga.

For most, it was their first time seeing a species considered a taonga by Maori and more rare than kiwi with only about 2500 left nationwide.

"They've been so excited and it's pretty special for all of us as well," Fusion Wananga co-ordinator Hamiria Hutana said.

Lucy Tonihi, 10, of Hokitika, was amazed after gently patting one of the slate-grey birds.

"It was so soft and it's so small compared to normal ducks," she said.

Hokitika 10-year-old Nikitah Russell agreed.

"It was cool because I haven't seen one before. He felt soft, really soft."

Kapahaka tutor Te Rua Mason blessed the four whio before they were flown to the Moonlight Creek-Blackball area in the Paparoa Range and released.

DOC biodiversity ranger Glen Newton said 10 eggs were collected last September from their river-edge nests on the Styx River, inland from Hokitika.

They were captive-reared in Christchurch at Peacock Springs Wildlife Park, run by the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust, until big enough for freedom.

Half fortunately turned out to be females, he said.

In 2004, stoat trapping began in the Styx-Arahura rivers to protect the then-dwindling whio population.

It was expanded into the neighbouring Taipo valley and Kawhaka creek areas about a year ago to protect enough habitat for 50 pairs with each pair needing at least 1km of fast-flowing river for its territory.

Newton said whio numbers had increased significantly since trapping began, which was sponsored by Solid Energy, and plans were afoot to expand predator control. "Ducklings were seen in the Taipo soon after we started trapping."

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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