Top of the south kaka breeding programme launches at Nelson's Natureland Zoo
To the untrained eye it looked like a first kiss, a touching of beaks on a tree branch.
But the first meeting of the male and female kaka, a nationally vulnerable native parrot, at Natureland Zoo on Monday was more innocent than that.
"They were just going up to say hi," said Meg Rutledge of Natureland Wildlife Trust.
"It was mostly exploratory and the vocalisations they were making were not overly aggressive so that's just fine."
The brief but promising encounter marked the start of a captive breeding programme for northern South Island kaka at Natureland Zoo.
The programme, run by Project Janszoon and the Department of Conservation (DOC), aims to improve the genetic diversity of kaka being introduced to Abel Tasman National Park.
Three male kaka were introduced to four females at the zoo for the first time on Monday.
"This is the beginning of a reinvigoration of the captive breeding population in the north of the South Island. These birds all have genetic links to the top of the south and will potentially create three breeding pairs that could start reproducing as early as next year," said Rosemary Vander Lee, DOC's South Island captive kaka breeding coordinator.
The female kaka all have genetic links to the northern South Island and have been raised at South Island captive breeding aviaries.
"The males have been raised here since they arrived as fledgling wild birds. It is an exciting step to be able to pair them with the female kaka and we hope they form lasting relationships and begin breeding," Rutledge said.
Genetic inbreeding in bird populations was recently highlighted as a threat to native birds in a report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright.
Project Janszoon ornithologist Ron Moorhouse said kaka were rare in the Abel Tasman and it has been difficult to source kaka with the best genetic links to release.
"Birds need genetic diversity to survive and we can now establish a northern South Island breeding population of young birds, that are not related.
The captive breeding programme aims to harvest more kaka chicks from Nelson Lakes and Kahurangi National Park to further boost the breeding population and strengthen its genetic resilience.
Since 2015 it has successfully released four female kaka to join the small remnant population of wild male kaka in the Abel Tasman.