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‘Extinct’ bird may be alive

‘Extinct’ bird may be alive

Forest & Bird is welcoming the news that the South Island kokako – declared extinct in 2007 - could still be alive.

An apparent sighting of a South Island kokako has recently been accepted by the Ornithological Society’s Records Appraisal Committee, which monitors the status of rare and endangered birds.

The claimed sighting was made jointly by Len Turner and Peter Rudolf, near Reefton in 2007.

It was one of 11 submitted. The committee considered the others to be “probable” or “possible” sightings of the South Island kokako. These came from the Marlborough Sounds, northwest Nelson, the West Coast and the Catlins, and were made between 1990 and 2008.

The committee said that two sightings - made in Waikawa - were probably of a tame North Island kokako, a separate species to the South Island variety. The committee did not explain how the bird may have come to be in the South Island.

An expert panel convened to manage the New Zealand Threat Classification System (NZTCS) earlier this month changed the South Island kokako’s classification from “extinct”’ to “data deficient” – based on the 11 claimed sightings. The NZTCS is facilitated by the Department of Conservation, with input from universities, museums, crown research institutes, independent experts and NGOs.

Forest & Bird member Alec Milne, who says he has both heard and seen South Island kokako, and who runs a project to find evidence they still exist, describes the Ornithological Society’s decision as “wonderful”. He says his quest stems from when he first heard its call.

“The defining moment for me was in a small alpine valley at the head of the Cobb Valley, listening to notes that hung in the air then echoed off the rock faces ... the injustice of turning our backs on such a bird, it having recently been declared extinct, I found unacceptable,” says Alec.

Alec’s project has been funded in part by Forest & Bird.

“We can’t say that the South Island kokako is still alive. But this is the best sign yet that it is,” says Forest & Bird Advocacy Manager Kevin Hackwell.

“Alec and a small group of committed conservationists have put in a huge effort. It would be a fantastic day for New Zealand conservation if their work confirmed that the South Island kokako is not extinct, and that then kick-started the species’ recovery.

“Sadly, when the claimed Reefton sighting was made, the area was subject to intensive pest control. But that pest control stopped several years ago,” Kevin Hackwell says.

“Because of the reclassification, there needs to be more pest control work in the South Island than ever before. If they are still out there, the South Island kokako will just be hanging on, and their biggest threats will be rats, stoats and possums.

“New Zealand is thought to have lost over 50 bird species. If just one of those extinctions turns out not to have happened, it would be incredibly good news,” Kevin Hackwell says.

Before the Reefton sighting, the last accepted sighting of a South Island kokako was in 1967.

The birds have (or had) orange wattles on their faces. The endangered North Island kokako has blue wattles.


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