Farming seen as a way to save weka

BY JILL GALLOWAY
Last updated 12:00 04/02/2010
WILD TASTE: Weka chicks being hand-raised at Owlcatraz Animal Park in Shannon.
BEN CURRAN/Manawatu Standard
WILD TASTE: Weka chicks being hand-raised at Owlcatraz Animal Park in Shannon.
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Farming weka for meat could result in the birds becoming less endangered, according to Shannon animal park Owlcatraz.

The comments come after Canterbury farmer Roger Beattie said he wanted to secure trial approval to supply-farmed weka for meat.

Owlcatraz owners Ross and Janette Campbell have been raising the endangered North Island weka for 15 years and have nine at the moment.

The 30 chicks they have raised over the years have gone to bird sanctuaries all over the North Island, in an effort to boost the birds' numbers.

"There are less than 2000 North Island weka. Farming them could have merit.

"If there wasn't such tight regulations, perhaps the endangered weka would do better," Mrs Campbell said.

Weka are flightless and have fallen prey to predators such as stoats, ferrets and possums, which have reduced their numbers in the wild.

Many weka reached maturity only in sanctuaries, and farming them might mean better survival, Mrs Campbell said. In Canterbury, Mr Beattie believed weka could be domesticated.

If that was the case, it could well become the New Zealand version of the American turkey, he said. Mrs Campbell intended to farm South Island weka, which in some places were not endangered the way their North Island cousins were.

The Department of Conservation still lists the South Island weka as endangered.

Federated Farmers said it was sure that farming the birds would lead to more of them.

"Here's a true Kiwi entrepreneur who ought to have every policy encouragement to see if a new market can be created," said Federated Farmers' game spokesman Donald Aubrey. He said New Zealand fauna offered unique potential to be farmed.

"I eagerly await the Government's response, since it's saying 2010 will be the year for export-led growth.

"Domesticating some native species – aquatic or terrestrial – actually removes pressure off the wild populations."

Mr Aubrey said Federated Farmers saw Mr Beattie as being in the same mould as Sir Peter Jackson and Weta Workshop's Richard Taylor.

KILLING WEKA AGAINST THE LAW

It is illegal to kill weka because they are protected under the Wildlife Act 1955, Department of Conservation spokesperson Reuben Williams says.

The only way around the act is to lobby the Government to change it.

The South Island weka is an endangered species. Only Stewart Island, where the bird was introduced, has an adequate number, Mr Williams said.

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"We are not opposed to the concept of farming an endangered species. Farming and conservation can co-exist. But DOC's role is to protect endangered species."

He said a request to farm weka for meat was an "interesting angle". "But it's not unique. We've had proposals for godwits and to farm wood pigeons. Under current legislation it is not allowed."

He said visitors to New Zealand would prefer to see live endangered animals rather than eat them at a restaurant.

Mr Williams said Roger Beattie, who is keen to farm weka, had supplied South Island weka to Ngai Tahu as part of the breeding programme. Weka breeders must get a permit from DOC.

- Manawatu Standard

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