Local conservationists are pleading with cat owners in Pirongia to keep their cats inside at night to protect a fledgling kōkako population in Pirongia Forest Park.

And they have stepped up efforts to trap feral cats which have been increasing in number and now pose a serious risk to all native birds on the mountain.

Volunteers from Pirongia Te Aroaro o Kahu Restoration Society, with support from the Department of Conservation (DoC), helped return 14 kōkako to the mountain in July last year.

A kōkako perches on a tree near the Pirongia Forest Park Lodge. Photo / Amanda Rogers
A kōkako perches on a tree near the Pirongia Forest Park Lodge. Photo / Amanda Rogers

They were returned from Tiritiri Matangi Island where kōkako with unique Pirongia DNA had been part of a captive breeding programme.

Advertisement

Since then, six pairs and two females have begun nesting successfully with other translated birds and the mountain is now nurturing a small but vulnerable kōkako population.

However, society chairwoman Clare St Pierre says the birds are being put at serious risk by rising numbers of feral cats, as well as local pets.

Pirongia Te Aroaro o Kahu Restoration Society chairwoman Clare St Pierre. Photo / Bethany Rolston
Pirongia Te Aroaro o Kahu Restoration Society chairwoman Clare St Pierre. Photo / Bethany Rolston

"Kōkako are easy prey for cats because adult birds spend time on the ground foraging for food," she says.

A pair of kōkako living on the very edge of the Forest Park are particularly vulnerable and Clare is calling on the wider Pirongia community, including local cat owners, for help.

"We have had reports of a significant number of feral cats on the roads near the mountain, upwards of 20 near the park where kōkako were reintroduced and that's a real worry," she says.

"We believe some of those cats have been deliberately dumped and turned feral which is distressing and an issue in itself because dumped cats rarely survive long-term. But they can do huge damage to birds and also target species like native lizards," she says.

It's not only feral cats causing concern. The society is asking local cat owners to put collars and bells on their domestic pets and keep them inside at night so they don't become part of the problem.

"We know many local people already do this which is great," Clare says.

"But we have worked for years to see kōkako back on our maunga and it would be heart-breaking to see any of our precious birds killed."

In recent months, volunteers have stepped up efforts to trap feral cats as well as possums, ferrets, stoats, rats and weasels. Members are asking that local cats be microchipped so if they are caught in traps, they can be returned to their owners with a plea they be kept inside at night.

Clare says she was happy to host a wider meeting with the community to consider what else might help protect native birds now calling Pirongia home.

"We're not anti-cat — we're just concerned about protecting birdlife on our maunga."

The Pirongia Te Aroaro o Kahu Restoration Society was formed in 2002 and now has 140 members and 275 registered volunteers.

Ongoing efforts have also resulted in increased populations of riflemen, tomtit, tūī, bellbird, North Island Robins whitehead and kererū.