Adult kakī/black stilt numbers soar

A nearly 40-year programme to protect one of New Zealand’s most critically endangered birds is paying off, with a record number of adult kakī/black stilt recently recorded living in the wild, the Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage announced today.

“Thanks to the team effort involved in the Department of Conservation’s (DOC) successful captive breeding programme and amazing support from partner organisations, the known adult population has increased by 31% to 169 adult kakī. That’s 40 more adult birds living and breeding in the wild than this time last year and the largest population increase since the programme began.

“Kakī are a taonga species for Ngāi Tahu and are mostly only found in the Mackenzie Basin. Due to a variety of challenges including predators and habitat loss, they are the world’s rarest wading bird.

“Today’s announcement is a tribute to nearly four decades of protection, research, and intensive management. Kakī have had a remarkable turnaround since they were on the brink of extinction in 1981, when the adult population declined to a low of just 23 birds.

“This significant population increase is due to extensive predator trapping and the very successful 2017/2018 breeding season when DOC released a record 184 juvenile kakī that were raised in captivity. Highly susceptible to predation, just 67 of the birds managed to evade predators and reach adulthood.”

DOC works with a range of partners to support kakī, including The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust, which is currently raising 34 birds in their Christchurch aviary. The programme has received funding support from partners such as Global Wildlife Conservation, Meridian Energy and Genesis Energy.

“More kakī will survive in the future thanks to extensive trapping. Last year, conservation project Te Manahuna Aoraki expanded the existing trapping network to protect kakī across more than 60,000ha or 80% of their range,” Eugenie Sage said.

“The adult kakī population was surveyed by DOC rangers during the recent breeding season. These rangers were able to analyse the results and compare with previous data while working from home during COVID-19 Alert Levels 3 and 4 to identify the impressive result.

“Throughout the lockdown, a small team of DOC and The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust staff continued caring for 127 birds that are part of the captive breeding programme and housed in Twizel and Christchurch aviaries.

“Rangers have followed strict hygiene protocols to protect the health of both birds and staff during the lockdown. Working at a reduced capacity, staff have ensured kakī care and their own bubbles were not compromised.

“Now we’re in Alert Level 2, DOC and The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust will continue caring for the young kakī until they can be safely released into the Godley riverbed in August. Once released, the birds will benefit from an extensive trapping programme and lower predator numbers following the colder winter months” said Eugenie Sage.

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