Specially trained dogs are helping Department of Conservation staff to conserve the surviving population of blue ducks in the Wakatipu.
The blue duck, or whio whio, is a rare species of native duck usually found in remote rivers in mountainous valleys.
Around Queenstown the blue duck lives in the headwaters of Lake Wakatipu, including the Routeburn and nearby valleys.
Department Queenstown conservation partnerships manager Greg Lind said the blue duck could disappear from the region and was vulnerable to stoat attacks.
"With so few blue ducks remaining, unless the decline is halted the species faces a real risk of becoming locally extinct," Mr Lind said.
But the species is often hard to find so the department is using specially trained dogs to sniff them out.
Ranger Paul van Klink and border collie / springer cross Hoki have been busy searching the Routeburn Valley for ducks.
"Hoki is a bundle of energy and works tirelessly all day bounding across boulders and through streams to find the ducks. She is a super sleuth, and can find ducks under boulders, in pools away from rivers and in old log hideaways," Mr van Klink said.
Hoki was trained from an early age to sniff out the blue duck but refrain from having them for dinner. She was certified with the Conservation Dogs Programme before being allowed to enter national parks and always wears a muzzle.
In the Routeburn, so far, the pair found six blue ducks and the department's ambition is to re-introduce more birds to the Wakatipu.
The pair plan to search the Milford Track and return to the Routeburn and nearby valleys next year.
- The Mirror