The urban drift north continues.
Four critically endangered kākāpō made the flight north from Codfish Island, west of Stewart Island, to settle into a new home at Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari, near Cambridge, yesterday.
Department of Conservation kākāpō operations manager Deidre Vercoe said returning the ground-dwelling parrot to the mainland was significant for all of New Zealand.
The fenced predator-free sanctuary near Cambridge was a large space, with plenty of good habitat for kākāpō.
But it was still unknown if the birds would successfully re-establish themselves in the long term, she said.
“The main focus of this translocation is to learn if kākāpō can thrive in a fenced sanctuary, while taking pressure off the islands ahead of future breeding seasons.”
The flightless native parrots made their historic flight via a commercial flight from Queenstown to Auckland yesterday.
Kākāpō were masters at camouflage, so it was very unlikely visitors to the sanctuary would come across them.
However, the potential to hear their distinctive “booming” calls across the Waikato landscape for the first time in generations was an important milestone.
“The translocation comes after decades of hard work by Doc and Ngāi Tahu through the kākāpō recovery programme, utilising both science and matauranga Māori to bring the species back from the brink of extinction,” Ms Vercoe said.
Doc implemented the kākāpō recovery plan in the 1980s. The surviving birds were relocated to the predator-free Codfish Island near Stewart Island.
Kākāpō had recovered from a population low of 51 birds in 1995 to 252 in 2023.
Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu deputy kaiwhakahaere Matapura Ellison said the translocation was a significant milestone in the recovery programme.
The 3240ha sanctuary was the largest predator-fenced habitat in the country and potentially, the only current location on the mainland suitable for a kākāpō population.
“To have them now returning to the mainland is a major achievement for all involved.”
– By Toni McDonald