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Latest DOC Cuts Threaten Endangered Kakapo Recovery

1 April 2013 - Wellington

Forest & Bird media release for immediate use

Latest DOC Cuts Threaten Endangered Kakapo Recovery

The proposed loss of 140 frontline Department of Conservation staff announced last week will have a significant impact on the recovery of the kakapo - one of our most endangered native animals - according to independent conservation group Forest & Bird.

"As the details have emerged, it is clear that, contrary to assurances from Conservation Minister Nick Smith, the proposed cuts will have a direct impact on the conservation of some of our most endangered species," Forest & Bird Advocacy Manager Kevin Hackwell says.

One example is the small, highly skilled and dedicated Kakapo Recovery Programme team, which will not only lose its dedicated programme manager but also the sole technical ranger and sole dedicated scientist. This will destroy the team's crucial scientific and technical skill base.

The considerable success of the Kakapo Recovery Programme followed a 1995 international review that identified the need for a highly skilled technical team to closely manage the recovery of the world's largest and rarest parrot.

"This is still a highly technical programme requiring complex genetic management. Only 40 per cent of kakapo eggs currently hatch because of inbreeding and if this gets worse the species could be doomed. Despite the team's success, there are only 126 kakapo in the world today," Kevin Hackwell says.

"The team has made a huge investment in understanding the genetics of the kakapo population, in the development of artificial insemination techniques, nest management, artificial incubation, hand rearing and in developing a detailed understanding of the environmental factors that determine kakapo breeding success," he says.

The kakapo team works as part of the Southern Islands Area Office, alongside the team that manages New Zealand's five sub-Antarctic island groups. Under the proposed changes to DOC's structure, a smaller total number of staff will be required to do both lots of work but without the same technical and scientific support.

"We will see a loss of specialist skills and knowledge for both of these important work areas," Kevin Hackwell says. "However, the impact will be particularly significant for the future of kakapo because of the loss of the specialist scientific and technical skills needed to support their recovery.

"When the frontline staff cuts were announced last week, the Minister of Conservation, Nick Smith, gave assurances that they would not affect the conservation of our endangered species.

"This is clearly not the case for kakapo, and the same appears to be true for other endangered species recovery work around the country.

"We hope that as the impacts from the latest round of proposed staff cuts come to light, the department will rethink the extent of the cuts and the government will increase the department's funding in next month's Budget," Kevin Hackwell says.

"There is a sad irony that the same week DOC was threatening the kakapo recovery to meet the government's funding cuts, the government has indicated it is considering giving the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter's multi-national owners a multi-million-dollar support package."

The smelter has for many years been the corporate sponsor of the Kakapo Recovery Programme.

"Most New Zealanders would rather that the government gives our endangered species the support they need rather than subsidising multi-national companies."


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