26 Mar 2021

Kōkako population reaches 2000 pairs

8:38 pm on 26 March 2021

A milestone in efforts to increase the number of kōkako has been celebrated under the cover of darkness.

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Photo: © David Cook Wildlife Photography (CC BY-NC 2.0)

From a population of just 300 breeding pairs in the late '90s, the North Island kōkako now boasts 2000 pairs.

Hundreds of environmentalists, iwi members and Department of Conservation staff gathered to catch the dawn chorus in the Pureora forest early this morning.

Department of Conservation kōkako recovery lead Ilse Corkery was one of those who headed into the forest near Taupō and said today was about celebrating the landmark in kōkako recovery and those who helped achieve it.

"We separated into four groups and we slowly walked the Waipapa Loop track listening to the dawn chorus and listening out for kōkako and we got pretty lucky. There were a few that put on quite a display for us."

Corkery said the key to the programme's success was simple.

"A lot of hard work on the ground and predator control - it's really the rats and possums in the forest - and a lot of habitat restoration.

"We've done a lot of translocations so that of the 25 populations that we currently have, only 11 are relics. All the rest have been translocated or are new populations that have started."

Corkery said, although 1080 poison had played its part, two thirds of kōkako populations were now managed by iwi and community groups, and their contribution could not be underestimated.

John Innes was working for the NZ Forest Service in Pureora area during the 1980s when he became involved in the drive to save the kōkako.

"I think they got down to eight or nine pairs in this little area and in the Mangatutu catchment, which is sort of near Ōtorohanga, at the other end it would've been down to a similar number.

John Innes

John Innes Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

"So pest control started at both ends. At this end by the Department of Conservation and at the other end by community groups and in particular the Howick Tramping Club. And now those two populations have merged in the middle and made this very large one we have now."

The wider Pureora forest area now has an estimated 490 breeding pairs.

"It's complex, heartlifting, just inspiring, extraordinary," Innes said. "It just shows that you can bring back these birds from quite perilous numbers.

"We're just celebrating 2000 pairs this weekend. It's taken us 30 years to get here, but the key thing is the trend and that number could go up and up and up."

Kaitiaki group Te Houkainga o Pureora co-hosted today's event, and coordinator Frances Hughes said it was a bittersweet moment.

"When we were growing up around here as kids we heard the kōkako, so it was a normal thing for us. It was just part of our everyday life.

"When the logging stopped that's when things changed and it was because of the kōkako.

Te Houkainga o Pureora coordinator Frances Hughes

Te Houkainga o Pureora coordinator Frances Hughes Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

"So, they stopped the logging which meant our livelihoods were affected, our families disintegrated.

"They had to move away because of the kōkako, but no one explained to us what that was going to look like and what was going to happen. It just happened."

Hughes said members of the Rereahu iwi had only recently joined in the effort to save kōkako.

"For the last 35-to-40 years we haven't been involved or actively involved in any of the research, any of the studies, any of the projects, because we didn't know.

"So, we made it our job to find out what is this all about. We went to DOC and said 'we want to know more', you know ... 'what do you do with these birds? Why are you taking them away from our home?' So, we got onboard to learn more and I'm just so grateful that we did."

Hughes, who paid tribute to the community groups that stepped up in manu whenua's absence, said her iwi members had now rediscovered their love for the kōkako.

"They're precious, very very precious, and everything around the kōkako is so precious.

"As kids growing up around here that was our playground, so hearing the birdsong was normal. Now coming back as adults with a different view has emphasised the importance of all those taonga."

Her moko, 10-year-old Tali Rata, went on the dawn walk.

"It was, like, scary at first because like I couldn't see the lodge but then when we stopped to look at the kōkako I forgot all about it.

"And then we heard the deer roaring and, yeah, it was pretty cool but it sounded, like, creepyish."

She also heard kōkako.

"They were like really cool because like my brother George, he was singing hard-out trying to communicate with them and stuff. Yeah, and that was pretty cool."

Tali was please there were more kōkako in the forest now.

"Yeah, I'm really happy about that."

It is hoped North Island kōkako can be removed from the endangered list by 2038 if trends continue.

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