Last flight for whio

29 April 2024 | All News
Project Janszoon has met its target of re-introducing 50 whio into the Abel Tasman National Park, with four juvenile whio flying by helicopter into their new home on the upper Awaroa River in early March this year. This brought the total number of birds released into the park to 52. Kaumātua Harvey Ruru, Kiriwai Spooner (Pou Manaaki, Ngāti Rārua) and Project Janszoon board member Devon McLean accompanied the birds to the release site along with DOC Ranger John Henderson, who has accompanied many young birds to be released across the park over the years. “It’s great to see whio back in the Abel Tasman,” said John. “Their return has only been possible due to the sheer hard work and dedication of a myriad of people and organisations. Making sure they remain there in perpetuity is now the goal.” Since 2018, Project Janszoon has flown over a dozen whio-release missions into the park – some by helicopter longline where the locations were too hard to land in. Whio need a pristine habitat – fresh clear running water with plenty of macro-invertebrates for them to feed on. They have a strong smell that attracts predators, so managing rat, stoat and cat numbers is vital. The Abel Tasman National Park has several such sites where clear streams tumble down rocky hillsides, surrounded by healthy native forest, well-managed trapping networks and the call of other native birds. The captive breeding programme at Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust New Zealand (ICWTNZ) in Christchurch has provided a vital service, hatching and rearing many of the whio for release into the park. Eggs for the programme were collected by DOC rangers, often using a conservation dog to seek the nests out, within the top of the South rohe/region. This was essential to ensure the birds were culturally and genetically appropriate for release into the Abel Tasman National Park. Where eggs were taken from wild nests, the operation was carried out early in the breeding season as whio will usually lay a second clutch that minimises the effects on wild populations. Air New Zealand supports the programme by transporting wild eggs to ICWTNZ, and then bringing the live birds back to the top of the South for release. Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Rārua Pou Taiao (environmental manager) George Stafford says this project is inspirational. “The pristine taiao of Aorere National Park (Abel Tasman) is the perfect home for these whio. Hopefully, their release inspires people to respect and enhance the taiao in other places too. When the native plants and taonga thrive, we show future generations we value a connected and well-functioning taiao that everyone can enjoy.” Anne Richardson, Wildlife Manager at The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust, says that whio ducklings are hand-reared and need careful management to ensure they survive.  “They are our most labour-intensive species to rear,” says Anne. Following a 36-day incubation period they spend three months growing, with a specially built water-race where they can strengthen their fast water swimming skills. “They are ready to go when they start flying. It’s always very satisfying to see them heading off to their new life in the wild.” Project Janszoon Board Chair Gillian Wratt has attended several bird releases in the park and says it is always a cause for celebration. “We are nearing our targets for many of the taonga species we have reintroduced to the park and it’s fantastic to see the hard work paying off. We’ve worked with our key partners DOC and the Abel Tasman Birdsong Trust to control predators in their habitat. Iwi have been involved all the way through with the Tikanga Māori around releases, and Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust have worked with us to hatch and rear the whio.”
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