By ANNE BESTON



The trouble really starts when they decide to hit town.



"Hoon groups" the locals call them - gangs of marauding juvenile kea, fuelled on high-energy food from the dump and out for a good time.



As with most gangs of young vandals, there is usually a ringleader doing the real damage while the rest stand around watching.

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"They damaged roofs in the township one night recently. That situation became of concern and we had to remove the perpetrator," says Department of Conservation community relations manager Ian Wightwick.



"We've worked hard with the community over the past two years, and we acknowledge it's an issue the department will sometimes have to get involved in."



That is a polite way of saying that occasionally the human inhabitants of Fox Glacier reach the end of their "feather" and demand action.



A dual population boom is not helping.



Tourist numbers are up, and there is something of a building surge.



The kea population is also rising. Two mild winters and a warm summer have spelled good breeding conditions for New Zealand's naughtiest bird.



Kea (Nestor notabilis) are New Zealand's native mountain parrot. They are found mostly in the lower South Island in subalpine areas and are fully protected. There are 1000 to 5000 in the wild. Kea are good flyers, nomadic and very sociable, but the trait that gets them into conflict with humans is their insatiable curiosity.



"Because of the food available at the local dump, they don't have to forage, so they can spend the rest of the evening having fun," Mr Wightwick said. "They are wonderful birds, but I also acknowledge their behaviour can be frustrating."

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Fun in kea terms can mean anything from ripping open the seat of the motorbike left in an unlocked garage to pulling out nails or ripping up building paper at construction sites.



Kea got their first bad press from sheep farmers in the late 19th century. From being regarded as harmless vegetarians, they suddenly became infamous for attacking helpless sheep, pecking them while they were still alive.



Over an eight-year period, 29,000 birds were killed, with a royalty paid for their beaks.



Today their fondness for ripping rubber off cars has been used in a TV advertisement selling insurance.



Their situation mirrors that of many wild animals forced to live too close to humans.



Although locals are conscientious about locking rubbish away and remembering to close garage doors, kea still find a way to get into trouble.



One possible solution for the people of Fox Glacier is resiting the town dump.



Without an easily accessible source of food, it is hoped that the keas will retreat to remote areas to forage, keeping them too busy to make for the bright lights of town.



In the meantime, DoC has signs at the glacier car park warning visitors that they could return to find a bit of rubber car trim missing.