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Foundation to support zoo conservation mission

24 August 2004

Foundation to support zoo conservation mission

The New Zealand National Parks and Conservation Foundation (NZNPCF) has thrown its support behind a mission to save the world’s rarest duck. Early next month Auckland Zoo will provide vital veterinary skills for the return of the Campbell Island teal to its sub-antarctic home on Campbell Island, nearly 700km south of Bluff.

Like the kiwi, the Campbell Island teal (of which there are less than 100) is flightless, mainly nocturnal, a victim of predators and found only in New Zealand. The bird was thought to be extinct until a tiny population was discovered on a small islet off the Campbell Island coast in the mid-1970s. Captive breeding and the eradication of rats and other introduced mammals from the main island over the last 30 years have finally paved the way for the return of the duck to its former homeland.

Auckland Zoo's vet, Dr Richard Jakob-Hoff, will be accompanying the birds in early September and assessing the disease risks on the island. “Now predators have been successfully eradicated from Campbell Island, disease remains the most significant potential threat to the successful re-establishment of teal," he said.

"Working on remote islands is a very expensive undertaking and I would not be able to make this journey without the support of organisations like the foundation. Their generous contribution of $8000 will ensure that every measure is taken to minimise threats to the successful completion of this 30-year mission.” The NZNPCF is a national endowment fund through which businesses, individual donors and visitors are able to contribute to the conservation of New Zealand’s unique natural heritage.

“The foundation is delighted to be supporting Auckland Zoo’s important work for this critically endangered species. The foundation has a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Conservation (DOC), which allows it to offer nation-wide conservation partnerships, “ says Jane Arnott, the foundation’s executive director.

“This is clearly a project of national significance, as the health screening work Dr. Jakob-Hoff is doing with this species has direct implications for all wildlife translocations in New Zealand,” says Ms Arnott. “The zoo’s Wildlife Health and Research Centre (WHRC) is leading work on the development of baseline health data for native species and we are keen to support that work.”

Dr Jakob-Hoff has been invited to be a member of the DOC release team. He will examine other wildlife the released ducks will encounter on the island to assess the disease risks they may face after release.

Some preliminary screening has already been done by Dr Jakob-Hoff. In March 2003, the zoo's WHRC was commissioned to conduct the first pre-translocation health screen of the teal on Codfish Island. Twelve birds were captured and given comprehensive health examinations including the collection of diagnostic samples to screen for 12 diseases considered of greatest significance to these birds.

"It's this information that has provided the basis on which to establish the most appropriate pre-translocation quarantine and disease screening for these ducks prior to transfer to Campbell Island," says Dr Jakob-Hoff.

The isolation of the sub-antarctic islands makes the Campbell Island teal particularly vulnerable to the introduction of disease to which the local fauna have no immunity.

"Currently in New Zealand there is little or no documented information about the diseases carried by the majority of native species, which is why this health screening is so vital. Assessing what diseases are already there will be important in deciding what measures, if any, are needed to protect the birds from illness," says Dr Jakob-Hoff.

As best practice, DOC has recently established a standard operating procedure aimed at taking all necessary steps to minimise disease risks when translocating threatened wildlife.

The up to 50 birds to be translocated will be sourced from Codfish Island and a number of captive holding sites, and will be fully health screened prior to departure. Once on the islands the birds will be maintained in holding pens for two weeks prior to release.

"This time will provide the window of opportunity to collect the baseline health data on mallard ducks and rockhopper penguins prior to the teals' release," says Dr Jakob-Hoff.

Note to the editor: The $8000 cheque from the New Zealand National Parks and Conservation Foundation will be presented this evening (Tuesday 24 August) at 5.30pm at one of the foundation’s inaugural sponsors, Campbell MacPherson, Level 2, Wyndham Towers, corner of Wyndham and Albert streets, Auckland City.

Background At one time thought to be extinct, the Campbell Island teal was re-discovered in 1975 on Dent Island, a tiny islet off the main 11,000ha Campbell Island. 1984: DOC began capture of small number of teal to establish a captive-breeding colony at the National Wildlife Centre Mt Bruce.

After 10 years of trialing different management techniques birds finally bred in 1994. 1999 – 2000: A total of 24 captive-bred birds were released onto rodent free Codfish Island, and these have subsequently established and bred well. DOC carried out a rat eradication programme on Campbell Island in 2001. It has now officially been declared rat free.

Campbell Island teal: Flightless, nocturnal, and remarkable in surviving in such an inhospitable environment (Campbell Island is surrounded by 200m high cliffs, is battered by wind and rain 325 days per year, and records an average temperature of 6 degrees!). These birds have distinctively long claws and short, stiff tail feathers, which adapt them to climbing up steep cliffs and crawling through dense vegetation. While they swim, and will feed amongst kelp on the sea, they do spend a lot of their time on land.

ENDS

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