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Zoo helps Campbell Island Teal

29 August 2005

Auckland Zoo helps Campbell Island Teal back from the brink

The home island population of the world’s rarest duck is about to double, thanks to the help of Auckland Zoo. Zoo vet Dr John Potter is leaving for Campbell Island this week to release 55 birds that have been bred elsewhere in New Zealand.

The trip continues the zoo’s involvement in teal conservation and following on from last year’s release of 50 birds onto the island. Dr Potter will give them health checks during his three-week visit.

Dr John Potter and five Department of Conservation (DOC) staff leave for Campbell Island, this Wednesday (31 August). Getting there requires a 48-hour boat trip through notoriously rough conditions. “I’m packing my anti-seasickness medicine!,” says Dr Potter.

The zoo vet will provide vital veterinary assistance, monitoring the birds while they remain in pens for up to two weeks, prior to their staggered island release. He will also check the health, as many as he can, of the teal released onto the island last year. Dr Potter says he will be carrying out disease screening, and looking out for any organisms that they might have picked up.

Before their 2004 release, the birds received a clean bill of health from another Auckland Zoo vet, Dr Richard Jakob-Hoff, who travelled to Campbell Island.

Along with checking the health of the teal, Dr Potter will also be obtaining blood samples from yellow-eyed penguin for an Otago University genetics study into this species. Disease screening samples will also be taken from a range of other sea birds, including the Southern Royal Albatross.

“It will be really useful to have John’s skills available to us,” says Department of Conservation’s Pete McClelland, who is co-ordinating the trip.

The Campbell Island teal is a flightless, mainly nocturnal bird, found only in New Zealand. Once thought to be extinct, and now believed to be the world’s rarest duck, the total population is less than 200. It is hoped that these released birds will breed.

A successful DOC rat eradication programme in 2001 paved the way for returning the teal to Campbell Island. The island lies 700km south of Bluff, and enjoys an average temperature of just six degrees.

The 55 birds have come from Whenua Hou (Codfish Island), Wildlife Trusts Peacock Springs in Christchurch and Mt Bruce National Wildlife Centre.

Mr McClelland said when DOC staff last visited the island in February, there were no signs of breeding. “We’ll be checking again this time as that is the key factor to establishing the birds back on Campbell Island. There is one more teal release scheduled for next year, but we hope to confirm breeding this summer, then we’ll just leave the birds to it,” he says.

A generous donation from the Chisholm Whitney Family Charitable Trust has covered some of the trip costs, including Dr Potter’s transportation and the birds’ diagnostic screening.

Auckland Zoo is involved in a wide range of conservation programmes for native species, including kiwi, tuatara, brown teal, whio, kaka, kokako and Archey’s frog. Earlier this month, the zoo won the 2005 Conservation Achievement Award in Partnerships and Community Involvement, a DOC award recognising successful conservation outcomes.


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