The number of whio to call a Taranaki river home increased last week with the successful release of 10 juvenile whio onto Mount Taranaki.

Some of the birds were released into brand new territory in the Patea and Te Popo Streams which are now protected by the stoat trapping network as part of environmental project Taranaki Mounga.

The birds were released on Friday as part of the Whio Forever partnership with Genesis.
Present at the release was a very special dog, Tai.

Tai is a two-year old chocolate heading Labrador cross who lives and works with the Department of Conservation's (DOC) biodiversity manager Joe Carson.

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She says Tai is one of the first Conservation Dogs certified to locate whio in the region and has helped to locate a record number of 64 whio chicks on eight rivers this season.

"Before we had Tai, I would go out on my own looking for whio, and they are really hard to see. They are well camouflaged and hide in tiny holes along the river. Now I just take Tai for a walk and he will find these rare native blue ducks in the smallest of spaces and point to them.

"It's like working with your best mate. You are on a beautiful river, watching him work and it's just magic."

Kiwibank and DOC joined forces in 2016 in a national partnership to support the Conservation Dogs programme.

The 10 ducks released on Friday were bred at the Nga Manu Nature reserve in Waikanae and the Hamilton Zoo. They have spent the last few weeks at DOC's Turangi whio creche to 'harden up' before being released into the wild.

In 1945 the local whio/blue duck population on Mt Taranaki was designated 'functionally extinct' because of predation by stoats and rats. A predator programme covering 7500 ha was started in 2003.

With a lot of hard work by DOC, the Central North Island Blue Duck Trust and Genesis Energy National Whio Forever programme, the whio population has now built up to 27 pairs. Within 10 years the Taranaki Mounga project plans to increase the number to 50 breeding pairs.

Taranaki Mounga has extended the safe area for whio and kiwi on Mt Taranaki by increasing the stoat trapping network to 10,600 ha last year. Further extensions are planned for 2018

"Taranaki Mounga is proud to work alongside other groups with the aim of increasing the whio population on the mountain and with the record number of chicks found by the Conservation Dogs the future is looking great.

Whio are extremely territorial and a pair need at least 1km of river to themselves so increasing the stoat trapping network gives them more safe areas to live and breed," says Taranaki Mounga Project Manager Sean Zieltjes.

Before the chicks were taken to the release spots, they were blessed, with everyone invited to give each chick in their individual travelling boxes a private blessing or prayer.
The chicks were then carried through the bush to the three release spots and their new homes.

Despite people watching them as they explored, the whio did not seem concerned and happily swam and fed where they had been released.

Call 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) immediately if you see anyone catching, harming or killing native wildlife.

WHIO FACTS:

* Population: Under 3000
* New Zealand status: Endemic (native)
* Conservation status: Threatened — Nationally Vulnerable
* Found in: Clean, fast-flowing rivers in the North and South Islands
* Threats: Habitat loss, predation, disturbance
* Blue duck are found no where else in the world, and are rarer than some species of kiwi.
Their Maori name is whio in the North Island or ko whio whio in the South Island, which depicts the call of the male bird.
* Blue duck/whio are a taonga (treasured) species that Maori have a strong cultural, spiritual, and historic connection with.
* The blue duck is a river specialist, and one of the few waterfowl worldwide that live year round on fast-flowing rivers. Whio use the river as a defence mechanism to evade threats — they go with the flow, submerse themselves, then retreat into roosts.
* The whio features on the New Zealand $10 note.