Historic Hawke's Bay: Cape Kidnappers Gannet Colony

This week's column was inspired by a walk to the gannet colony this week.

The gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers was settled by the Australasian gannet in the 1870s. It is possible that the gannets mistook the Cape for an island - their normal habitat.

With the Cape Kidnappers' gannet colonies being the largest accessible one in the world, the potential for tourism was not lost on some in Hawke's Bay during the late 1800s.

Several threats to the gannet population occurred, and in 1898 it was reported that local Maori took a liking to eating the bird, and in 1910 the colony was subject to some individuals grabbing young chicks out of their nests, and throwing them over to the cliff to see if they could fly - which at that stage they couldn't. This act of vandalism in 1910 led for calls of a ranger to patrol the colony to stop the deaths of many young chicks. The population had at that stage halved.

Another act of vandalism occurred in 1932 when the eggs on Black Reef were taken, which led to an exodus of the nesting birds from that spot until they returned seven years later.

In 1939 the Forest and Bird Protection Society had concerns about the gannet colony being a 'tourist resort' rather than a protected sanctuary. Their fear was that when the birds attracted attention, and they felt it - like rooks and crows, they would desert their nesting places. Despite some scares, such as an earlier one in 1924 - the birds have returned each year.

The Cape Kidnappers Gannet Reserve is now managed by the Department of Conservation to protect the gannet nesting sites.


- Hawkes Bay Today

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