Aviary opened with news DoC stepping back

The board of Pukaha Mount Bruce is poised to take over the total management of and responsibility for the national wildlife centre as of July 1 with the Department of Conservation taking a step back.

This was revealed yesterday by board chairman Bob Francis at the opening of the centre's new free-flight aviary in the company of Conservation Minister Maggie Barry.

Mr Francis said DoC would continue to support Pukaha Mount Bruce but "essentially" the board would take over the entire operation of the 942ha forest and visitors centre.

This would include the forest restoration work and the captive breeding programme along with the duties the board has always been heavily involved in such as the on-going pest eradication programme.

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Mr Francis told the Times-Age the board would continue to "get a cheque each year" from DoC to help out with the captive breeding programme.

He said the management change would not alter staffing - about 30 people work at Pukaha - or volunteer programmes with young people from throughout the country and from overseas coming to help out with tasks such as setting trap lines.

Changes already made included the board taking over the catering at the centre's cafe.

Mr Francis said the changes would allow a more "total approach" to be taken with the management of Pukaha.

It was also planned to ramp up pest control, possibly by erecting small internal fences to try and usher pests into areas where they could be more easily eradicated.

Mr Francis said the free-flight aviary, built by Rigg-Zschokke, was stage four of the board's upgrade plans and said a stage five was now in the offing.

"I can't say much about that yet other to say it will probably include some sort of nighttime experience," he said.

The official opening of the free-flight aviary was carried out by Ms Barry who said she had been visiting Pukaha for more than 30 years and had seen many improvements.

She thanked Rangitane for gifting back the site to the Crown in the wake of a Waitangi Treaty Settlement and said experience had shown when rats, stoats and other pests were eradicated from areas such as the Pukaha forest then balance was restored and valued species do well.

Ms Barry said the free-flight aviary, built at a cost of $1.2 million, followed on from early stages including the upgrade of the visitors centre in 2009 and the building of the kiwi house two years later. The aviary houses kereru, bell birds, kaka, red-crowned kakariki along with whio and pateke.

The minister, when thanking all involved in the project and those who sponsored it, bestowed a new mantle on Bob Francis calling him the "Patron Saint of Pukaha".

She officially opened the aviary by cutting a ribbon, in tandem with Chanel College student Crystal Burgess, 11, who is the centre's first badged junior ranger.

-More pictures, page 6