OPINION: A few months ago the Herald carried a photo feature by our chief photographer, John Bisset, on a trip up to the Mueller Hut, in Mt Cook National Park.
The highlight of that superb pictorial display for many was, I suspect, the pictures of the interaction of the trampers with several kea.
This inquisitive native parrot is highly endangered, with estimates putting the remaining population at under 5000.
It's a tally that fell by one on Friday when a 12-year-old Christchurch student on a school ski trip threw a stone at a kea, killing it.
The incident was, as the school admits, "very regrettable"; flying in the face, according to its principal, of the school's pro-conservation stance.
Comments from the principal, Richard Paton, and the manager at Canterbury's Porter Heights skifield, Uli Dinsenbacher, seem to indicate that there was no real element of premeditation in the act.
"I don't think there was anything specifically malicious about it. He threw the stone at the kea, it hit the kea, and unfortunately the kea died," Mr Paton told Fairfax yesterday.
Mr Dinsenbacher labelled the incident a case of "just kids being kids" with indications from the Department of Conservation that no action is likely against the boy or the school.
So what should we make of this incident?
Well, the school seems to be taking a proactive stance in deciding that they want the child responsible to undertake some form of community work in the conservation area to allow him to make amends. That's good; hopefully it will go some way to showing him, even if there was no real intent on his part to harm the unfortunate bird, how easily such situations can come about.
But it's also, surely, an opportunity for New Zealand skifield operators generally, and schools who take children on such trips, to lift the educational element to a new level.
There are reportedly signs at the skifield about keas' endangered status. That's good, but perhaps in the light of this incident, more could be done.
When schools book ski trips, skifield management could encourage them to educate their pupils about this quirky bird; not only to ensure they are aware of how easily a seriously regrettable incident like this can occur, but also to acquaint them with what makes keas' survival such a desirable thing.
This is an incident we would much rather hadn't happened, but there's no reason it can't be turned into a positive thing on an ongoing basis.
- The Timaru Herald