Kakī settling into wild for Conservation Week

The captive-raised and critically endangered taonga were released into the Tasman and Godley rivers just in time for Conservation Week, running from August 14-20. The annual event celebrates conservation work across the country and encourages people to take action for the environment.

The released birds included juveniles from an important female kakī remaining in captivity named Māwhero. She had several clutches of chicks with a new mate named Manunui, who she paired up with in a remarkable way, after tragically losing her first partner Wiremu.

DOC Kakī Recovery Programme Wild Lead Claudia Mischler says the wild adult population is up to about 156 adult birds (not including those just released), and is generally trending up over time, though it fluctuates quite a bit.

“They [kakī] have had a long journey since the 1980s when they were down to 23 adults, they’ve come a long way now.”

She says staff will provide the newly released sub-adult kakī with supplementary feeding for the next few weeks to help them settle into their new environment while they are learning to fend for themselves.

Claudia says the breeding programme is very successful and work is happening to improve the birds’ survival rates in the wild.

Kakī are vulnerable to introduced predators and extensive trapping takes place across the Mackenzie Basin, including through the Te Manahuna Aoraki Project and Project River Recovery programmes, with support from local landowners.

“An action people can take to help kakī is to be aware and take care if fishing or otherwise out on riverbeds, as kakī or other birds may be around – especially over summer months when birds are nesting,” Claudia says.

“If there’s a bird nearby and it seems to be annoyed, move on and give them space.”

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu Kakī Species Representative Rynee de Garnham has been coming to kakī releases for five years and says releasing manu for their first flight in the open is always a special experience.

“Being able to see that, and watching the population increase, there’s nothing else like it.”

Rynee says its important there are opportunities like this for Ngāi Tahu whānau to engage and be better acquainted with the species, and to contribute to the species success in the wild.

“My dream is for kakī to one day be found all across Aotearoa, and there will no longer be a need for the Kakī Recovery Programme.”

Captive rearing for wild release takes place at DOC’s Twizel facility and The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust in Christchurch. It is a significant part of the Kakī Recovery Programme.

One significant bird held in captivity is Māwhero, who comes from a lineage that’s underrepresented in the wild which means she’s important for the genetic diversity of the species.

She was offered several suitors and originally partnered with a male called Wiremu. The pair had a very successful first breeding season but then, unfortunately, Wiremu died suddenly due to cancer in February 2022, leaving Māwhero to raise their chicks on her own.

In November, a wild male kakī began hanging around DOC’s captive breeding aviaries in Twizel. He was particularly interested in Māwhero so staff opened the door and let the male in, and they soon formed a pair.

After looking back at the records, it was determined the male, named Manunui, was one of the birds originally trialled with Māwhero and although they were friendly then, there didn’t seem to be any romance between them, so Manunui had been released into the wild in January.

The new couple were very successful this breeding season, raising several clutches of chicks, which means Māwhero’s valuable genetics were passed on and spread into the wild.

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