A fugitive kea suffering from lead poisoning has been given a police escort to hospital in Christchurch after it was finally caught in Arthur's Pass today.
Since early October, the Arthur's Pass Kea Team and Arthur's Pass Wildlife Trust have been asking the public for sightings of two juvenile birds named Wananga and Kerewa.
"These birds have been seen vomiting, which means they might have lead poisoning," team spokesperson Laura Young said.
"Kea will lick and chew the lead nails and flashings on older houses and huts, which tastes sweet to them. They can't excrete lead from their bodies naturally so over time, it builds up in their systems and causes serious illness or even death. It also makes them lethargic, which increases their chances of being killed by cars or other man-made objects."
One of the birds, named Wananga, was finally caught today after it was seen outside the Arthur's Pass Village Shop.
"I tested his lead levels on the spot and it was way too high, completely off the chart," Young said.
"The local cop was going back to down to Christchurch, so we asked if he could give the bird a lift. We called ahead to the South Island Wildlife Hospital and they were all ready to go."
Wananga will be treated for lead poisoning using a technique called chelation. This involves binding the lead in their system so it can be excreted. The treatment will take a few weeks depending on how much lead is present in Wananga's system.
"But that's not a sustainable solution to this problem, which is why we are also working on a project to replace lead flashings and nails from houses around Arthur's Pass with the Kea Conservation Trust," Young said.
While this might be a success story for Wananga, another sick bird is still out there.
"Kerewa is also showing signs of lead poisoning and needs to be caught for testing and possible treatment. We're asking the public to report any sightings of birds to the kea database."
This success comes just a day after the cheeky Kea won Forest & Bird's annual Bird of the Year contest.
Once numbering in the hundreds of thousands, kea are now classified as Nationally Endangered with just 3,000 - 7,000 birds remaining.