In a joint effort between the Department of Conservation (DOC), Air New Zealand and the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust (ICWT), the juvenile birds were translocated from their Christchurch captive breeding facility to pest-free Mana Island off the Wellington coast as essential work for the welfare of these critically threatened birds.
With just 250 individuals, these tūturuatu are key to a programme aiming to establish a new population on Mana Island that will allow the species’ numbers to grow.
“The birds are part of the third transfer this year, which was put on hold when New Zealand went to Alert Level 4. A review highlighted the serious welfare risks posed to the birds by further delays. The young tūturuatu have been in their own non-COVID-19 related lockdown in a small quarantine aviary and, like us, are subject to stress when confined, but with more serious health implications,” says Dave Houston, DOC’s Ecology Technical Advisor and leader of the Shore Plover Recovery Group.
“Getting the birds to Mana Island as soon as possible is the best outcome.”
Species translocations always require significant logistical effort and working to the Government’s COVID-19 directives required even more, he says, highlighting the dedication of those involved.
Biosecurity measures were up to the highest standard for birds and humans alike. As well as the use of PPE (personal protective equipment), a single person escorted the shore plovers for each leg of the journey and social distance was carefully maintained at pick-up and drop-off points.
A crucial leg of the journey was provided by Air New Zealand.
“With such a small population of shore plover in existence, the welfare of every bird matters, which makes properly caring for them on their journey really important. We’re pleased to be able to continue to support the Department of Conservation with their essential work during this time,” says Air New Zealand’s Head of Sustainability Lisa Daniell.
Anne Richardson Wildlife Manager at ICWT says, “After a very successful breeding season this year, Isaacs’s Conservation and Wildlife Trust are pleased everyone got together and worked on getting the last of our juveniles released as having them held in captivity too long can cause welfare issues including territorial aggression and stress deaths that can seriously reduce birds chances of survival in the wild.”
DOC’s Dave Houston adds that not completing this year’s series of planned releases would place the whole programme in jeopardy.
“Released juveniles are more likely to view the release site as their new home when they are in larger numbers. The birds help to anchor each other to their release site. Establishing new populations is critical to the recovery programme and we cannot afford to lose one year’s worth of effort.”
The translocated tūturuatu will undertake a period of isolation in a temporary aviary before being released, allowing them time to associate Mana as their new home before combining their bubble with the other birds recently transferred to the island from ICWT and Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre. While in isolation, the tūturuatu will have food delivered by the Mana Island Ranger Nick Fisentzidis, who has remained on the island with his family for the duration of the lockdown.
While most of DOC’s outdoor work is on hold, some essential work is being carried out to meet significant animal welfare needs, providing this this can be done in a way that is safe for staff and meets requirements for minimal contact under Alert Level 4. This work includes essential care for some rare species in captive facilities.