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Rare birds flying in (by helicopter) to Zoo

1 September 2004

Rare birds flying in (by helicopter) to Auckland Zoo

Forty saddlebacks (tieke) being flown up by helicopter from Cuvier Island, will touch down just opposite Auckland Zoo (in a Western Springs College field) tomorrow morning to begin a quarantine period at the zoo’s Vet Department.

The threatened birds from Cuvier Island are destined to be relocated to the mainland island, Boundary Stream, in northern Hawke’s Bay. The saddleback has been absent from the mainland for almost a century. Once widespread throughout the country, their numbers were decimated by the arrival of rats, mustelids and cats.

Department of Conservation (DOC) staff captured the birds, and have been carrying out health checks to ensure a safe mainland re-introduction. While all the birds appear healthy, seven of them may have Salmonella.

Auckland Zoo vets, who have been advisors to the DOC team catching the birds, have the skills and facility required to hold the birds.

“Samples from the suspected positive-testing birds have been sent to a specialist diagnostic lab in Wellington to confirm if and what type of Salmonella it is. If it’s a strain known to cause serious disease we will need to decide whether or not to treat, observe for signs of illness, or to send the carrier birds back to Cuvier Island,” says Auckland Zoo vet, Dr Richard Jakob-Hoff.

“As all the birds have been housed together, more of them may have been contaminated, so we’ll have to test all of them again at least once. In the meantime the seven known positive birds will be kept separate from the others and strict quarantine protocol will apply.”

The birds are expected to remain at Auckland Zoo from anywhere from two to four weeks, depending on the results. Care of the birds will be a team effort with the zoo’s Native Fauna section keepers preparing the daily food for the birds and vet nurses looking after the daily husbandry.

With the exception of a population within the predator-proof fence at Karori Wildlife Sanctuary in Wellington, saddlebacks are currently restricted to off-shore islands like Cuvier (just off the coast of Coromandel Peninsula).

“Boundary Stream Mainland Island is intensively managed to maintain pest and predator numbers at very low levels. A number of bird species, including the North Island brown kiwi and North Island kokako, have been successfully re-introduced and thrived in the protected environment,” says DOC’s Hawke’s Bay Area Manager, Ken Hunt.

“I must emphasise that this work is a learning process and success is not guaranteed. We know that several of the island releases were unsuccessful, but if the people involved had not been prepared to take some risks and keep building our understanding of how these processes work, we may not have had any saddlebacks left today,” says Mr Hunt.


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