Effort to stop kea electrocutions

RHONDA MARKBY
Last updated 05:00 21/02/2013
unwin hut substation
SUPPLIED/ Shirley Slatter
KILLER COMPLEX: The Unwin Hut Substation at Mt Cook where kea and a native falcon have been electrocuted.
dead kea
SUPPLIED/ Shirley Slatter
ELECTROCUTED: A kea found dead at Unwin Hut substation at Aoraki/Mt Cook.

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Kea repellent has been sprayed on a substation at Mt Cook in an attempt to stop kea being electrocuted.

In the past couple of weeks, five kea and a native falcon have been electrocuted at Alpine Energy's Unwin Hut Substation at the entrance to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. And it seemed likely at least a handful of other kea had died the same way, Department of Conservation community relations programme manager Shirley Slatter said yesterday.

Staff became aware of the deaths when a member of the public reported seeing a kea electrocuted earlier this month. A check of the substation found a further two dead kea and a dead falcon. Falcons are a threatened species and there are estimated to be 5000 kea in New Zealand.

Another kea had been found dead at the substation and a fifth was seen walking around dazed. Attempts to catch that bird failed, but what was thought to be the same bird was found dead the following day.

When asked, Alpine Energy staff said dead kea had been found in the substation in the past.

Alpine Energy has been contacted to see what can be done to protect the kea. In the meantime, repellent has been sprayed around the substation and anywhere else the birds might land nearby.

DOC ranger Corey Mosen said the repellent made kea feel sick when they ingested it. Hopefully they would remember that and not go near it again.

High country farmers have sprayed the mixture on sheep in an attempt to deter kea from attacking stock. Trials of the substance on forestry crews' vehicles appear to have discouraged kea from damaging them, Mr Mosen said.

The spray was applied around the transformer a week ago and no birds had been seen in the area since.

About 11 juvenile birds, probably about 15 months old, had been hanging around the transformer before the deaths.

Company corporate services manager Michael Boorer said Alpine Energy was looking at options for the transformer, including bird scarers, but DOC staff had been skeptical they would work.

"We have looked at some type of building over the substation but it gets down to the likely cost [and who would pay for the work]."

The substation is due for replacement in five or six years, and staff are considering whether that date should be brought forward.

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- The Timaru Herald

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