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Fluffy Ducks for New Year

We’re taking the ‘kids’ to the pool tomorrow – five delightful 18-day-old whio/blue duck ducklings will have their first swimming lesson at Orana Wildlife Park in the morning. Whio are hunting ducks, so the youngsters must learn to find food and fend for themselves, as they will be released to the wild once mature.

Orana’s Native Fauna Manager, Catherine Roughton, says “tomorrow’s pool session is a really important milestone for the ducklings. It’s essential they spend time honing their hunting skills before being ready for release to the wild. The ducklings will be released on the West Coast when they are around six months of age.”

“Whio are amazing birds – they are an ancient species and one of the few waterfowl that live year round on fast flowing rivers. They are like white water rafters so these ducklings need to quickly master their paddles!” says Catherine.

Whio are one of New Zealand’s most threatened waterfowl species mainly owing to predation. They play an important role in the ecosystem being an indicator of healthy rivers and streams.

“We are proud to contribute to the recovery programme for South Island whio. Our parent pair arrived at Orana in 2017 and since that time have produced over 40 ducklings, twelve this breeding season alone, including the latest five. Visitors can see our beautiful whio parents in the walk-through aviary, though the ducklings are off display,” adds Catherine.

Tomorrow’s lesson for the ducklings nicely rounds off 2019 and the past decade for Orana in terms of native conservation efforts. The last ten years has seen Orana significantly increase its conservation output, particularly relating to local efforts. As well as whio, Orana continues to contribute to breed for release programmes for pāteke and kiwi. In 2017 Orana joined the breed for release programme for orange-fronted kākāriki a species only found in Canterbury and numbering less than 300 in the wild. This year, orange-fronted kākāriki chicks bred at Orana were released to the wild for the first time, six more chicks have hatched in the past two months and our four breeding pairs have produced more eggs in the past few days! Significantly, in partnership with the Department of Conservation, 100 endangered kōwaro/Canterbury mudfish were transferred into our waterways in November as a backup population for these threatened native fish – the rarest mudfish in New Zealand. Further transfers will occur next year with the aim of establishing a population of 300 kōwaro at Orana.

“We have ambitious plans in place for 2020 and beyond to further contribute to native fauna conservation. Over the next year, the team will advance the design of a major new Native Species Centre,” adds Catherine.

Naturally, staff are delighted with achievements across the Park during 2019. A range of important animal transfers were successfully completed this year as part of managed breeding programmes. In June, we welcomed four young Tasmanian devils and in October a new waterbuck breeding bull arrived. November saw the arrival of a new spider monkey breeding male (Tostada) and in December a young female giraffe (Kamili) arrived to join our breeding herd. During September, we transferred a group of five spider monkeys to Australia. The Orana team were thrilled to breed the first ever addax calves in New Zealand in April.

It has also been a successful year on the development front. Most notably a brand new visitor café was completed and opened in October that has stunning views across the Park. A number of smaller projects were also completed including an upgrade to our quarantine building. Currently, a new Zoo School building is being constructed to create a modern learning space in the zoo to further enhance our successful education programmes. The new facility will be completed in time for Term 1 teaching.

“Orana operates as a charitable trust and must separately raise funds for capital developments. We rely on gate-takings to operate so take this opportunity to sincerely thank the community for their support by visiting us,” concludes Catherine.

Orana’s key highlight of the decade: Development of the Great Ape Centre in 2015, Orana’s biggest ever project, that is home to New Zealand’s only gorillas. For the past two years, Orana has also had the privilege of holding the country’s only orang-utans (soon to return to Auckland Zoo).

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