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South Island Kokako Investigation Team

Produced by Wildlife Surveys,
42 Aranui Rd, Mapua, Nelson.

A new search for a native bird that has been ‘missing in action’ for more than 30 years is to get underway in October.

If successful, the ‘Kokako 2000’ campaign will confirm the continued existence of the South Island kokako, a forest bird that has not been officially recorded since the 1960s.

The search for the South Island kokako will be led by nationally-recognised wildlife ecologist Rhys Buckingham, and is being jointly funded by Nelson mail-order company, Maruia Nature Catalogue, and environmental lobby group, Ecologic Foundation.

Christchurch outdoor clothing manufacturer Earth Sea Sky and the Department of Conservation are providing logistic support, and private donations have also been received.

The South Island kokako was once one of New Zealand’s most distinctive songbirds, with a call that has variously been described as haunting and unforgettable. It is a distinct sub-species from the North Island kokako, which is being actively managed by the Department of Conservation to ensure its recovery.

Persistent reports of unusual calls, occasional sightings and the discovery of feathers have all contributed to the belief that the bird survives in remote areas of the South Island or southern Stewart Island. However, any remaining birds are probably ageing males living in isolated populations, as females are more prone to predation from stoats and possums.

“This year’s Kokako 2000 campaign will be the first concerted search since 1996 and has the funding and commitment to provide new information on this elusive species,” said Buckingham.

The campaign will begin in Kahurangi National Park in October and proceed through parts of Nelson Lakes, Canterbury, Buller, Westland and Fiordland until January.

The searches will be conducted by small teams of field workers, traversing forested areas on foot with video and audio recording equipment. Success will come through either photographic evidence or the discovery of a feather that can be linked to the species by genetic analysis.

“While this sounds straightforward, we know the kokako is an elusive bird that calls only occasionally and appears to deliberately hide when disturbed,” said Buckingham. “Locating the few isolated birds that may remain is becoming progressively harder.”

Managing director of the Maruia Nature Catalogue, Ben Van Dyke, said his company had decided to sponsor the search out of a shared environmental concern for the species.

“We cannot let this bird slip quietly into extinction while New Zealanders stand by doing nothing,” he said. “The fate of the South Island kokako is in the hands of the community, and we want to do our bit to ensure it has a future in the new millennium.”

Executive director of the Ecologic Foundation, Guy Salmon, said the quest for the South Island kokako was a touchstone for New Zealand’s environmental commitment.

“The sad tale of the South Island kokako mirrors the larger fate of the South Island’s beech forests,” he said. “The native biodiversity of these magnificent forests faces an eventual demise in the face of introduced predators such as possums and stoats, unless we embrace intensive pest control.”

“The Kokako 2000 campaign illustrates precisely why we should care for our ecological future, and we hope will stand as a rallying point for a larger environmental commitment.”

Managing director of Earth Sea Sky, David Ellis, said his company was supplying the searchers with a video camera and clothing as a mark of faith in Buckingham and his team. “We see it as a vote of confidence in the campaign, and hope we can contribute positively to the possible rediscovery of this species.”

New Zealanders will be able to follow progress in the search via the Internet, at www.nznature.co.nz.

For more information, please contact: Rhys Buckingham, South Island Kokako Investigation Team: 03-5402365 or 025-2028984. Ben van Dyke, Maruia Nature Catalogue: 03 –5487227. Guy Salmon, Ecologic Foundation: 025-2013033.


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