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Rare kākāriki released into wild despite COVID-19 restrictions

Antoinette Spicer
Orange Fronted Parakeet
Orange Fronted Parakeet  Craig McKenzie

Eighteen rare kākāriki birds are being released into the Canterbury high country today to help the species recover.

The kākāriki karaka/orange-fronted parakeet is the rarest of New Zealand’s six kākāriki species. They are only found in valleys in Arthur’s Pass National Park and the Hurunui South Branch in Lake Sumner Forest Park. 

While most Department of Conservation (DOC) fieldwork is on hold under Alert Level 3, some urgent and high priority conservation work is being carried out under strict measures to avoid the spread of COVID-19. 

Four DOC rangers, who share the same bubble, will drive into the valley to receive the birds and put them into two on-site aviaries with food for two days, before releasing them into the wild.

The captive-bred kākāriki were due to be released several weeks ago, however, the operation was delayed because of lockdown restrictions.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage says the release has become more urgent for the welfare of the birds and to free up much-needed space in the aviary.

"Monitoring before the lockdown showed the birds released last month had teamed up with wild kākāriki," Sage explained.

"DOC is hoping this new group of birds does the same.”

DOC is working with Ngāi Tahu, the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust (ICWT) and Christchurch Helicopters, to transfer the birds from the Trust’s aviaries at McLean’s Island into the South Branch of the Hurunui valley, following strict COVID-19 protocols.

"[This species] is a taonga species for Ngāi Tahu. They eat seeds and insects and during last year’s mega-mast, seeds were abundant, dominated their diet and boosted breeding," Sage says.

"Releasing the birds into the wild is a vital part of the recovery plan for this critically endangered species."

Today's transfer of 18 kākāriki follows the successful release of 15 birds at the same site in the South Branch of the Hurunui River valley in March, before lockdown started. 

A successful population has also been established on Blumine Island/Oruawairua in the Marlborough Sounds. The population is estimated at 200-300 birds.