Captive-bred, some of world's rarest wading birds released in Mackenzie Basin
The last captive juvenile kaki – the rarest wading bird in the world – ventured into the wild for their first time in the Mackenzie Basin.
Fifty-one of the birds were released onto the Godley Delta, at the head of Lake Tekapo on Mt Gerald Station, on Tuesday afternoon.
The 9-month-old kaki were released by Department of Conservation (DOC) staff and pupils from St Andrew's College in Christchurch.
Their release meant there were now no juvenile kaki left in captivity ahead of the next breeding season, DOC aviculturist Liz Brown said.
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There are 106 adult kaki in the wild and five adult breeding pairs in captivity. Two of those pairs were in Twizel and three were in Christchurch, she said.
DOC biodiversity senior ranger Dean Nelson said the release of the birds was "very cool"; it was "like all our hard work has come to fruition".
Tuesday was the fourth date to be scheduled for the release. The other dates were affected by rain or high winds.
This was the second year in which kaki were released at the Godley Delta, which had a "better variety of habitat" for the birds, with a range of water and grass habitats.
Work was being done to make the Mt Gerald Station catchment a permanent release spot, he said.
The release happened in a milestone year: 2017 was the first year in modern times in which the wild adult kaki population reached more than 100 birds.
The juvenile birds had about a 30 per cent survival rate in the delta as the area was not completely "predator controlled".
There were controls in the Tasman Valley, where the birds had a 50 per cent survival rate.
The newly released birds would be closely monitored and fed by DOC rangers over the next six weeks, he said.
"We're not just throwing them out there . . . they will slowly get the idea of how to fend for themselves."
The birds were reared in Christchurch at the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust.
St Andrew's College year 3 teacher Jane Radford said the pupils who attended the release had been learning about the endangered species.
Pupil Nick Burtscher, whose father Michael Burtscher owns the station, arranged for the field trip.
Pupil Serena Bayley, 7, said it was "really cool to open the box and have my bird fly out".
"I have never seen a black stilt live, which is very cool."
In June, it was announced a new $500,000 breeding aviary would be built in Twizel. It could result in up to 175 extra birds being released into the wild each year.
The new aviary was funded by a not-for-profit organisation set up by Brian Sheth, the United States-based Global Wildlife Conservation board chairman.
Nelson said the aviary was awaiting building consent from the Mackenzie District Council.
He hoped it would be approved soon so it could be ready by the end of November, in time for the next breeding season.