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National Battle to protect whio ramps up

28 February 2014

National Battle to protect whio ramps up

The Battle for our Birds continues with the spotlight shining on whio next month.

The whio is the unique native duck only found in New Zealand’s fast flowing waters. With fewer than 2500 whio left nationwide Genesis Energy and the Department of Conservation have partnered together in a five year programme to secure the future of this threatened native bird.

The Whio Forever partnership is adding another tool to its arsenal of protection this year with funding to build a new whio rearing facility at the Tongariro National Trout Centre near Turangi.

National Whio Recovery Group leader Andrew Glaser says the North Island whio rearing facility will help recover the national whio population by allowing whio ducklings to ‘grow and train’ in a more natural environment. “It’s like a finishing school for whio, where they can learn to swim and feed in fast flowing water, giving them a better chance of survival when they are released back into the wild.”

“A facility like this will mean more ducklings survive the transition from captivity back to the wild, so they can establish their own territories and find mates. This will help us boost the population in the wild,” he says.

Andrew pointed to the success of restoring the whio population in Egmont National Park which has been achieved through a combination of predator control activities and the release of captive reared birds over the past nine years. “ We’ve been able to bring whio back from local extinction, and develop the tools and knowledge to enable us to do this in other areas of the country.”

“This is the first successful restoration of a whio population in New Zealand. It is a credit to the Taranaki community and shows what can be done with an effective trapping regime and WHIONE (lifting eggs and hatching and rearing in safe captivity).”

The whio population in Egmont National Park has grown from almost nothing to 24 pairs of whio since 2005. This breeding season a record 36 ducklings hatched in the park, although it’s not yet known how many of these will survive into adulthood.

The Tongariro National Trout Centre’s rearing facility will give more whio ducklings a fighting chance of making it to fledglings in a safe secure environment.

Using existing infrastructure at the trout centre the facility will be constructed on one of the redundant trout raceways and will give visitors the chance to see whio and learn more about the iconic bird.

Interpretive and educational material will promote whio conservation, including their role as an indicator of a healthy river system.

Existing whio rearing or hardening facilities are located at Te Anau and at Peacock Springs near Christchurch. Using South Island facilities means extended travel for North Island whio ducklings. Constructing a low cost facility in the North Island reduces the risk and expense associated with this.

The facility will cost an estimated $110,000 with funding from the Whio Forever partnership, DOC and the Central North Island Blue Duck Charitable Trust.

Construction is due to start in the next two months and it is hoped to be completed for the arrival of the first ducklings in September this year.

The support of Genesis Energy is enabling DOC to double the number of fully secure whio breeding sites throughout the country, boost pest control efforts and enhance productivity and survival for these rare native ducks.

Background Information on whio
• The whio is a threatened species of native duck that is only found in New Zealand’s fast flowing waters. Featured on New Zealand’s $10 note and with an estimated nationwide population of less than 2500 birds, whio are rarer than kiwi.
• Whio are adapted to live on fast-flowing rivers so finding whio means you will also find clean, fast-flowing water with a good supply of underwater insects.
• This makes whio important indicators of ecosystem health – they only exist where there is high quality clean and healthy waterways.

WHIO FOREVER
• Genesis Energy has a strong historic association with whio through the Tongariro Power Scheme and in 2010 this association grew through the establishment of Whio Awareness Month (March).
• Today, Genesis Energy and the Department of Conservation (DOC) continue their partnership through The Whio Forever Programme, which aims to secure the future of whio in the wild and ensure New Zealanders understand and value of whio in our rivers.
• The support of Genesis Energy and the work of DOC has enabled the Whio Recovery Plan to be implemented.

CONSERVATION ISSUE
• The whio are eaten by stoats, ferrets and cats, with the largest impact during nesting time when eggs, young and females are vulnerable, and also when females are in moult and can’t fly.
• Extensive trapping can manage these predators and work in key whio habitats by DOC and Genesis Energy on the Whio Forever Project has already seen an increase in whio numbers.
• Whio cannot be moved to predator-free islands like other species because of their reliance on large fast-flowing rivers.
• Pairs occupy approximately 1km of water – so they need a lot of river to sustain a large population and they fiercely defend their territories, which makes it difficult to put them with other ducks in captivity.
• They are susceptible to flood events which, destroy nests, fragment broods and wash away their valued food source.

ENDS

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