The Department of Conservation is releasing 104 juvenile kakī/black stilts – the world’s rarest wading bird – into the wild in the South Island’s Mackenzie Basin this week as part of its ongoing Kakī Recovery Programme.
The birds are being freed into the Godley Valley in three separate releases between 5-8 August, attended by classes from Twizel Area, Arowhenua and Tekapo schools.
Some of these birds are the first to be reared in a new kakī brooding facility near Twizel funded primarily by international conservation organisation Global Wildlife Conservation through the generous support of the Sheth Sangreal Foundation, along with DOC, Meridian Energy and Genesis Energy. The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust raised 24 of the birds in its breeding facilities near Christchurch.
In 2020 the adult kakī population increased by 30% from 2019 to a total of 169 adults. This was the population’s most significant increase since the recovery programme began more than 40 years ago.
“This is a really exciting time for DOC’s kakī recovery team and all those who help us in this work. We’re seeing years of hard work to protect these critically endangered birds finally turning the tide for their recovery,” says DOC Senior Biodiversity Ranger, Dean Nelson.
“It’s a collective effort with the population increase the result of both an intensive captive breeding programme and an increase in predator control throughout the Mackenzie Basin where they live in the wild.
“It’s been a tough year for wild kakī due to frequent heavy flooding during the peak of the breeding season.
“Although this year has seen a reduction on previous years in the number of birds to be released, it’s still fantastic to have more than 100 young birds to release into the wild.”
Kakī, alongside other rare bird species from the region, breed in braided riverbeds leaving them and their eggs exposed to severe weather events and introduced mammalian predators – predominantly feral cats, stoats, weasels, ferrets and hedgehogs.
This is the first year all the young kakī are being released into the Godley Valley thanks to a robust and extensive predator control programme being run there by conservation project Te Manahuna Aoraki.
“Kakī are tough birds who live in extreme environments but they need a helping hand. Te Manahuna Aoraki has increased trapping networks to now protect 80% of the kakī range, we have high hopes kakī numbers will continue to increase with more predators taken out of the landscape,” says Fiona McNab, Te Manahuna Aoraki project director.
“Protecting kakī and other braided river species is a team effort and we’re building on work by DOC and Project River Recovery. We’d also like to thank all the landowners in the area who have allowed us to extend trapping networks over their land.”
DOC is releasing a total of 104 juvenile kakī in August 2020; 24 birds from The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust and 80 from DOC’s captive breeding facility near Twizel. DOC will retain 10 young birds to form 2–3 new captive breeding pairs when they reach two years of age. Any of these 10 that don’t become part of a captive breeding pair will be released as an adult bird. Of the 104 birds for release, two of these are adults and the rest are juveniles.
DOC does an annual kakī count to understand how many adult kakī survive in the wild. The juvenile kakī released this year will reach adulthood in 2021.
DOC works with a range of partners to support kakī, including The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust, which raises birds in its Christchurch aviary. The kakī programme has received funding support from partners such as Global Wildlife Conservation, and Meridian Energy and Genesis Energy who both fund Project River Recovery.
Te Manahuna Aoraki has more than doubled DOC’s existing trapping network area, from 26,000 ha in the Tasman valley, to more than 60,000 ha across the kakī range including the Cass, Godley and Macaulay River systems.
There are an extra 2,200 new traps in the trapping networks.