Push to bring kokako song back to Otanewainuku forest

By Ruth Keber

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RARE: Otanewainuku Kiwi Trust will home about 35 kokako when the new birds are caught and released in August.PHOTO/SUPPLIED
RARE: Otanewainuku Kiwi Trust will home about 35 kokako when the new birds are caught and released in August.PHOTO/SUPPLIED

A rare New Zealand bird once close to extinction now has the opportunity to flourish in one of the Bay's most protected forests.

The kokako, known for its beautiful song, once thrived across the country but numbers slowly declined over the years until the population fell to 1000 to 1200 birds in the 1980s. The dark blue-greyish bird, which has bright blue wattles on either side of its beak, is slightly bigger than the tui. Nineteen of the species were first introduced to the Otanewainuku forest in 2010. By 2014, numbers had grown to 24.

The Otanewainuku Kiwi Trust has an opportunity to boost the population by 10 more birds in August, transferring them from the Kaharoa forest in Rotorua.

Otanewainuku Kiwi Trust chairman Hans Pendergrast said the kokako were not only special for their beautiful song, but the species' survival meant the survival of New Zealand's bush.

"We nearly lost them, we got down to such low numbers, they are far more endangered than kiwi.

"They are part of our biodiversity, they are a reflection of the health of our forest. If we can look after kokako then that means we have healthy forests and a healthy environment.

"When the forest flourishes the people flourish. If the kokako come back and establish as a proper population, that is a real reflection we are looking after the environment. People appreciate that. People connect to their environment."

Mr Pendergrast said the 10 birds would be transferred from Kaharoa Forest in Rotorua to Otanewainuku in August.

The transfer was part of a plan to re-establish the kokako in Otanewainuku, he said.

The kokako were still an endangered species because there are fewer than 2000 left. The remaining populations only exist on the North Island, he said.

"There is no kokako left where there is no protection. They depend on these protected areas now to be able to rebuild the population, and we are part of that. We started with zero kokako in Otanewainuku.

"This transfer in August is the next step along the way in boosting the population to keep growing it."

Rats were the number one killers of the endangered bird, he said.

The only places where the bird survived now was in forests that were protected and had active pest control.

There were eight groups that protected areas within in the Bay of Plenty and the Otanewainuku forest was one of them, with 12 to 15 locations where the bird is found across the North Island.

Last year the Otanewainuku Trust achieved 100 per cent pest-free status for possums and rats in the forest, he said.

"The forest is ready for more kokako. The birds we do have, have multiplied and thrived in the bush."

Otanewainuku Kiwi Trust are holding their annual public meeting on Wednesday June 22, from 7pm at the Balcony Room at the Tauranga Historic Village. Carmel Richardson will be speaking from the Kaharoa Kokako Trust.

The trust is also looking for volunteers for work days on June 26, July 10 and 24 from 9am. For more information please contact chair@kiwitrust.org

- Bay of Plenty Times

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