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Endangered Mudfish Move to Orana Wildlife Park

Tomorrow, Department of Conservation (DOC) biodiversity rangers will transfer 100 endangered kōwaro/Canterbury mudfish from The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust into a waterway at Orana Wildlife Park - alongside the cheetah habitat! These native fish are New Zealand’s rarest mudfish, they are critically endangered and face a high risk of extinction. Mudfish are unique because they can survive out of water in damp refuges if their habitat periodically dries – something most fish cannot do!

Orana’s Engagement Manager, Toby Johnson, says: “we are delighted to partner with DOC by providing a suitable habitat for these unique native fish. Orana will fulfil an important advocacy role by educating and enthusing the public on the plight of this local species whilst demonstrating how visitors can assist. Canterbury mudfish, as their name suggests, are only found on the Canterbury Plains and predominantly on private land.”

DOC Senior Biodiversity Ranger, Anita Spencer, says: “these amazing native fish are becoming increasingly endangered particularly since their wetland habitat is disappearing. Kōwaro are mainly found between the Ashley and Waitaki Rivers and part of our recovery effort involves securing them in safe new sites. Orana provides a unique setting particularly since it is a high profile location. People protect what they know about so by raising further awareness our hope is that Park visitors may be driven to help further protect these Canterbury fish.”

“Our priority with mudfish has always been to protect their natural populations, however very few of these sites have any sort of legal protection. With land use on the Canterbury Plains intensifying, the situation for mudfish has become quite critical. Introducing them at Orana provides another back up population.”

“They are incredible little fish and play an important role in the ecosystem as they come out at night to hunt mosquito larvae and other small invertebrates. However, they are predated by eels and trout which pushes mudfish to sites that are more likely to dry out each year,” adds Anita.

The fish are being transferred from a captive population at Peacock Springs (Isaac Conservation Park), which was established over 30 years ago, where they have thrived in similar habitat to that of Orana. Prior to the transfer, DOC thoroughly surveyed Orana’s waterways to ensure it is a suitable mudfish habitat. Formal approvals were then granted, including blessing from Ngāi Tūāhuriri. Further transfers will take place in the New Year with the aim of moving 300 Canterbury mudfish fish to Orana in total.

“Orana is committed to making a positive contribution to native species conservation, particularly for local species. The transfer of such a rare native freshwater fish to our setting is a significant step in ensuring their survival. There are many ways we can all become involved in protecting these fish, and people who have wetlands on their property could ensure those areas are preserved.”

“The introduction of mudfish to Orana perfectly complements our breed for release work with species such as orange-fronted kākāriki (New Zealand’s rarest parakeet that is restricted to Canterbury) and South Island whio/blue duck, plus habitat restoration initiatives whereby many native species live and breed on our grounds (such as korimako/New Zealand bellbird)” concludes Toby.

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