Endangered bird on brink of death

VICKI WATERHOUSE
Last updated 09:52 23/06/2011
Bittern
ROBERT KITCHIN/Manawatu Standard
WATCH OUT: A rare New Zealand Matuku (the Australasian Bittern) is treated in the Massey University Wildlife Centre for wing damage.

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An endangered native New Zealand wetlands bird was brought back from the brink of death at Massey University's Wildlife Centre after arriving with a severely damaged wing.

Boris the New Zealand Matuku is the newest resident at the centre.

It was picked up by Bird Rescue Whanganui and taken to the centre because of a fractured right wing which had led to it twisting around.

It was due for surgery on Tuesday but suffered a cardiac arrest after being anaesthetised and was resuscitated by veterinarians who decided to postpone the wing surgery.

Boris' wing fracture had healed out of alignment, so it would have to be rebroken and the muscles around it stretched out because they had contracted with the new position of the wing.

Matuku are endangered in both New Zealand and Australia.

There are about 750 left in New Zealand and less than 1000 in Australia.

Brett Gartrell said when the bird arrived a few days ago it was so underweight it was difficult to tell if it was a skinny male or a female, and he was still uncertain.

"It's obviously had the fracture there for some weeks so it's very thin," he said. "It's been starving slowly because its wing is completely twisted around."

It was hard to say what had caused the fracture.

"They can collide into things, particularly power lines, things like that. They can get grabbed by predators," Dr Gartrell said.

The birds were shy and avoided human contact, so much so that when the Manawatu Standard visited Boris immediately froze and puffed its feathers up, ready to peck at the eyes of any major threat.

Veterinarians wore safety glasses at all times when dealing with Boris.

"You do have to be really careful with these guys," Dr Gartrell said.

There was great concern for the falling numbers of Makutu but it was difficult to learn about them because they were so good at existing unnoticed.

"The more we learn about them the more worried we become about them," Dr Gartrell said.

"You can walk right past one and not see it. It's very difficult to spot in marsh land."

Massey University zoology lecturer Phil Battley said the main way the birds were monitored was by their loud booming calls. "They are a hard bird to get a handle on because they live in swamps."

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- Manawatu Standard

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