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Dangerous Departure For Godwits

17 March 2001

Dangerous Departure For Godwits (Or Hazardous Journeys For Godwits)

The godwits or kuaka of Parengarenga Harbour are about to enter the last and very treacherous phase of their summer holiday in New Zealand. Over a million arctic migratory birds are shot for food each year as they travel via the Australasian - East Asia flyway.

Here these remarkable birds gather in a giant flock, to carry out their final preparations before embarking on their 11,000 km flight to their breeding grounds in Siberia.

This is also a time when the birds are most vulnerable. The large flocks and the fact that they have built up a lot of body-fat to see them through their long journey to Siberia, make them an easy and sought after target for poachers.. According to Department of Conservation Te Paki Field Centre Supervisor Simon Job, shootings occur every year. He said that many of these protected birds are killed by indiscriminate shootings with shot guns, while many others are injured and left to die a slow painful death. This includes non target species such as the endangered New Zealand dotterel and the rare variable oystercatcher.

Bar Tailed Godwits or kuaka are a small bird of about 40 cm high, which are identified by their extraordinarily long upturned bill. They arrive in New Zealand in late September and inhabit mudflats and estuaries throughout the country, with a larger concentration in our northern harbours. They gather again at Parengarenga in late March to await the annual change of winds, which is taking them on their journey of many thousands of kilometres back to Siberia.

Kuaka are an absolutely protected species which is coming under significant threat from intensive poaching. Currently there is a world wide movement to reduce the effects of this illegal harvest. In New Zealand under the recently amended Wildlife Act 1953, anyone caught hunting or killing kuaka now face a maximum fine of up to $100,000 plus a further $5000 for each bird killed or up to six months of imprisonment.

Mr Job said “Kaumatua and kuia are telling of times, when kuaka were so plentyful that they darkened the sky with black clouds of birds taking flight. We don’t see this any more today. The birds have come under pressure here as well as overseas from loss of habitat, predation and poaching. Their numbers are steadily declining.”

He said kuaka were a taonga in need of help and he appealed to the community to keep an eye out for the little birds. He asked “If people see or hear shooting or suspect illegal poaching activities they can call the free Hotline on 0800 58 58 72”

According to Mr Job there were international efforts in progress to protect the birds not only in their respective winter and summer homes, but also in their stop-over places like Japan, Phillipines, Thailand and Malaysia. He would also like to see local people coming together to share thoughts on how the kuaka can be helped.

For more information please contact Angelika Cawte on (09) 408 6014 after hours (09) 408 2142

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