A NEW trust plans to re-introduce the national bird to a sanctuary near Queenstown.
The Routeburn Dart Wildlife Trust is working to create an ‘inland sanctuary’ in the Routeburn Valley and make it home to the only wild population of kiwi in Otago.
By controlling pest populations, with a buffer in surrounding Dart Valley, the trust aims to safeguard the area’s existing native bird populations – whio, mohua, kea, rifleman, piwauwau and kakariki.
And once data shows numbers of stoats, cats, rats, possums and mice are under control, the trust aims to establish a wild population of kiwi.
“Five hundred years ago, these valleys were alive with birdsong,” trustee and ex-Department of Conservation biodiversity expert Mike Ambrose says.
“The species are set up to succeed in that environment and it’s just the introduced predators that have tipped the scales against them,” he tells Mountain Scene.
The trust, with the support of DoC, was established late last year by volunteers and its website went live last week, beginning its fundraising drive.
Sponsorship cash from Air New Zealand and Genesis Energy has already allowed it to increase pro-
tection of whio, also known as the blue duck, with a captive breeding programme in the works.
But it needs public funding for ongoing intensive pest control and species reintroductions to create the Routeburn and Dart sanctuaries.
“It’s a natural stronghold there,” Ambrose says of the Routeburn’s narrow entrance and mountain surrounds.
“It’s well protected by its topography, so there’s high glaciated mountain tops as a barrier to re-invasion and there’s also the Dart River. It’s impossible to totally get rid of pests on mainland NZ though; they’ll always be re-invasion so it’s about managing it to a very low density.”
Proactive education programmes for local and national schools are also planned, along with the eventual project to re-introduce kiwi.
“There’s a niche for them – there isn’t a particular animal there that takes up that slot in nature.
“Just over in Fiordland we have populations of kiwi and over in South Westland as well but there’s none in Otago at the moment.
“Once we’ve had a few good seasons where we’re happy we’re intervening at a level that’s sufficient, that would give us the confidence to look at those re-introductions.”