Rare kakapo released at Little Barrier Island

Blades lived on Hauturu from 1982-1999 and has fathered 22 chicks over the years.
Andrew Digby

Blades lived on Hauturu from 1982-1999 and has fathered 22 chicks over the years.

Four critically endangered kakapo have travelled almost the length of the country in a day to be released on Hauturu - Little Barrier Island.

But the trip was also a homecoming for two of the birds that had once called the island home. One, called Blades, is considered something of a stud in the reproductive department and there are hopes he will be able to work his magic on the island.

Blades has fathered 22 chicks and lived on Hauturu from 1982 to 1999.

Kakapo programme manager Deidre Vercoe captures Blades on Whenua Hou at dawn.
Andrew Digby

Kakapo programme manager Deidre Vercoe captures Blades on Whenua Hou at dawn.

The return of Wendy was also a poignant moment for Warkworth-based helicopter pilot Roger Stevenson.

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His father flew Wendy to Hauturu in 1982. Roger took her off in 1998, and was the one to fly her back again.

After flying into Whenua Hou - Codfish Island, near Stewart Island the previous night, members of the Department of Conservation's Kakapo Recovery Team and Ngai Tahu started out before daylight to round up five of the birds.

Held by Dr Andrew Digby Blades gets his last view of Whenua Hou.
Deidre Vercoe

Held by Dr Andrew Digby Blades gets his last view of Whenua Hou.

They went by helicopter to Invercargill, then to Christchurch and then Auckland via commercial Air New Zealand flights, and then flown by helicopter to Little Barrier Island.

Five birds were originally planned to be translocated, but things didn't go quite to plan - one scampered high up into a rata tree and refused to budge.

So the remaining four were bundled into their carry boxes and headed off.

The birds were ferried by helicopter off remote Whenua Hou to Invercargill.
Andrew Digby

The birds were ferried by helicopter off remote Whenua Hou to Invercargill.

Another bird will be sent north at a later date, Dr Andrew Digby said.

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Kakapo are one of New Zealand's rarest birds, with just 153 of the flightless, nocturnal parrots left.

Once found in forests throughout the country, the birds have been devastated by pests such as stoats, rats and cats.

Flown to Christchurch and to Auckland on commercial Air New Zealand flights the birds got a lot of attention from staff.
Deidre Vercoe

Flown to Christchurch and to Auckland on commercial Air New Zealand flights the birds got a lot of attention from staff.

They were on the verge of extinction 22 years ago, with just 50 left before the remaining birds were moved off the mainland.

Most of the birds live on predator-free Codfish Island, near Stewart Island, and Fiordland's Anchor Island.

A small population has also been re-established on Hauturu in the Hauraki Gulf since 2012 in an effort to get a breeding population up and running, and they don't need the extra care and supplementary feeding the southern birds get.

Roger Stevenson's father flew Wendy onto Hauturu in 1982. Roger took her off in 1998, and now back again.
Deidre Vercoe

Roger Stevenson's father flew Wendy onto Hauturu in 1982. Roger took her off in 1998, and now back again.

Their 90-year life span should give ample opportunity for producing young, but the birds only breed when there's plenty of food around. In the south that's when rimu trees produce a lot of fruit. That saw a bumper crop of 32 chicks last year.

Researchers aren't sure what triggers breeding on Hauturu as there aren't any Rimu trees.

While the need to get the numbers up is behind the extra care the birds get, they also need to be able to look after themselves and that is why the population on Hauturu is so important.

Volunteers, members of Ngai Tahu and Ngati Manuhiri, and Conservation Department staff were on hand on Hauturu.
Andrew Digby

Volunteers, members of Ngai Tahu and Ngati Manuhiri, and Conservation Department staff were on hand on Hauturu.

All going well the island should eventually be able to support 100 birds, Digby said.

Unfortunately, Tiritiri Matangi Island, off the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, and the two mainland Open Sanctuaries at Tawharanui and Shakespear Regional Park are not big enough to establish breeding populations for the birds, he said.

With assistance from the rangers on Hauturu and Tane Davis of Ngai Tahu and Fiona McKenzie of Ngati Manuhiri released ...
Bronwyn Jeynes

With assistance from the rangers on Hauturu and Tane Davis of Ngai Tahu and Fiona McKenzie of Ngati Manuhiri released the kakapo.

 - Stuff

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