Rare kokako to sing in the Waitakere Ranges once again

The haunting melody of the endangered kokako is returning to the Waitakere Ranges after an absence of more than 60 years.

Intensive pest control efforts by the Ark in the Park project has resulted in the planned release of up to 30 kokako birds into the ranges over the next two years, beginning with the first transfer of birds on Tuesday 8 September 2009.

These kokako are being transferred to the Waitakere Ranges from the Mangatutu and Waipapa Ecological Areas of the Pureora Forest in the central North Island with the aim of creating a new self-sustaining kokako population at this large new site.

Only 750 pairs of kokako remain in the North Island. The Department of Conservation’s (DOC) kokako recovery plan aims to have around 1,000 breeding pairs established by 2020. This release is supported by DOC and DOC staff have been instrumental in capturing and caring for these birds.

“Approval to transfer kokako is a measure of success for the Ark in the Park project and I commend the group on their efforts,” says Auckland Regional Council (ARC) Parks and Heritage Committee Chair Cr Sandra Coney.

“The Waitakere Ranges were greatly affected by farming and timber milling up until early last century and this destruction of habitat, and the impact of introduced pests, lead to the demise of many native species.

“Restoration projects like Ark in the Park are vital to the protection of rare and threatened forest species and the ARC is committed to supporting these efforts in the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park,” she says.

John Sumich, Chair of the Ark in the Park Committee, says the kokako will be acclimatised to the Waitakere Ranges using sound anchoring technology, which has proven successful in other kokako transfers and encourages the birds to establish in the areas around the sound anchoring point.

"Kokako from different areas have different dialects, so it’s important to give them a feeling of familiarity by broadcasting their song at certain points in the forest. Speakers will play songs from the two populations used for the Ark in the Park transfer and we will monitor the behaviour and dispersal of the birds in relation to this,” he says. “Although kokako speak different dialects, from our understanding they’re not fussy if their partner doesn’t speak the same language, so we’re anticipating there will be cross-breeding amongst the populations.’

‘It’s fantastic to see this come to fruition after years of planning, and thousands of hours of dedicated work by our volunteer.”

This project also builds on the valuable work in the Hunua Ranges Regional Park, where the only surviving natural kokako population in the Auckland regional has been jointly managed by DOC and the ARC since 1994.

ARC Chairman Michael Lee says kokako recovery has been a long road for the ARC which began when the Council first stepped in to protect a struggling kokako population in the Hunua Ranges that was on the brink of extinction. Since that time the ARC, in partnership with the Department of Conservation, has restored that population, which is showing encouraging signs of thriving.

“We are aware that kokako were present in the Waitakere Ranges until they became extinct in the 1950s. It has always been an ambition of mine that we restore the kokako back to the Waitakere Ranges.

“It is great that after 60 years we can bring back kokako to alight on the branches of the mighty kauri and call across these hills,” he says.

The Ark in the Park project is a partnership between the ARC and the Waitakere Branch of Forest & Bird. Based at Cascade Kauri in the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, this 1200 hectare area of forest is largely free of mammalian pests and provides a safe haven for rare and threatened native species.

Today’s kokako release
• Two kokako were released into the Ark in the Park at Cascade Kauri this morning (Tuesday 8 September 2009).
• These birds were released at dawn, following a welcome ceremony performed by manawhenua Te Kawerau a Maki and donor iwi Ngati Rereahu and Pouakani.
• These birds will be joined later in the week by others from the Mangatutu and Waipapa Ecological Areas of the Pureora Forest in the central North Island and additional releases will take place over the few months.
Kokako Facts
• Kokako are renowned for the clarity and volume of their song which carries far across the forest. In the early morning, a pair may sing a duet for up to half an hour with other kokako joining in to form a "bush choir".
• Male and female are similar in colour and size (weighing about 230 grams).
• They protect large territories (8 hectares) by singing and chasing away invaders.
• They eat leaves, fern-fronds, flowers, fruit and invertebrates.
• Kokako are known to live for up to 40 years.
• In Maori myth, it was the kokako that gave Maui water as he fought the sun. The kokako filled its wattles with water and brought it to Maui. His thirst quenched, Maui rewarded the kokako by making its legs long and slender, enabling the bird to bound through the forest with ease in search of food.

About the Ark in the Park

• The Ark in the Park is a partnership between Forest & Bird (Waitakere Branch), and the Auckland Regional Council. It is an eco-restoration project at Cascade Kauri, in the northern Waitakere Ranges Regional Park.
• There are no physical barriers between the Ark in the Park and the surrounding forest, but the continuous operation of predator control within its boundaries creates a ‘mainland island’ of sanctuary from the risk-laden forest around. Predator control is allowing the existing flora and fauna to recover: trees and plants, invertebrates, native frogs, and birds. As well as this natural recovery, a programme of species restoration has started. Already there have been successful reintroductions of whitehead, North Island robin, and stitchbird (hihi).
• Predator control began in 2003 and currently there are approximately 1200 predator controlled hectares where introduced mammalian predators are kept to very low levels. This is achieved by means of a grid of bait stations, in which a toxic bait is placed to control rats, mice, and possums. In addition, cordons of traps kill mustelids (stoats, weasels, ferrets). The bait stations are placed 50 metres apart, on straight lines 100 metres apart. The bait is renewed three times a season, starting late winter and finishes mid-summer.
• Four times a year monitor tunnels are checked to measure rat and mice levels, which are compared with the levels from tunnels placed outside AIP.
• Mustelid traps are checked and re-baited once a week in summer, and every one to two weeks in winter.
• Weed control is also carried out by volunteers, both by physical removal and by use of herbicides.
• The Ark in the Park Buffer Zone is another 800 hectares of forest private land in the Waitakere Valley (to the north), where private land owners control pests. Forest and Bird and the Auckland Regional Council assist landowners with traps, bait, and technical assistance. This has allowed hihi and whiteheads to roam across a larger forest area.
• Funding to carry out the Buffer Zone has been provided by the Dept of Conservation Condition and Advice Fund and the Portage Licensing Trust.
To find out more about the Ark in the Park project go to www.arkinthepark.org.nz