Whanganui’s Bushy Park Tarapuruhi sanctuary is home once again to a flock of long-lost residents, the treasured pōpokotea whitehead.
The predator-free sanctuary, a partnership between Forest & Bird, Bushy Park Trust, and local iwi members of Ngaa Rauru Kiitahi, is delighted to welcome 52 pōpokotea whiteheads, an ancient species only found in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Forest & Bird’s Sanctuary Manager Mandy Brooke says: “This is an incredible opportunity to re-establish a species at Bushy Park Tarapuruhi which would once have been found in their hundreds in this area."
The tiny birds were moved in small groups last week from Waitahinga Reserve and released into their new home at Bushy Park Tarapuruhi.
Ms Brooke says that alongside the success of this project there may benefits to other native birds as well. “Whiteheads are ‘babysitters’ for koekoeā long-tailed cuckoo eggs and chicks, so if we’re lucky, we’ll also have some koekoeā decide to move in too.”
“Providing a home for these delightful birds has required a careful and concerted effort by many partners and experts. We’re extremely grateful for the support we’ve received to make this project a reality and honoured to welcome what will become our first breeding pōpokotea pairs,” Ms Brooke says.
Kevin Parker from Parker Conservation, the translocation specialist leading the 12-person catching team, says the timing around this project was reliant on the availability of birds and the weather.
“We caught and released pōpokotea as we went to minimise stress on these birds.”
The translocation was funded by Horizons Regional Council. “It’s an incredible opportunity for the Whanganui area from a biodiversity standpoint, to have a predator-proof asset such as Bushy Park Tarapuruhi to reintroduce these species back into,” says Nick Heslop, the Horizons Community Biodiversity Advisor.
“Bushy Park Tarapuruhi have been working closely with Horizons Regional Council around this pōpokotea translocation. It’s about restoring the missing pieces of the ecosystem in an important priority habitat site. To be able to provide a safe predator-free habitat for these and other “at risk” species, to not only survive… but to thrive and repopulate is a credit to the many volunteers and expert input and advice from all involved.”
Wendy Bainbridge, Senior Parks Manager at Whanganui District Council, says the council is “pleased to have supported the project which will help to provide a breeding population of pōpokotea at Bushy Park Tarapuruhi.”
If the team were unable to capture enough birds from the Waitahinga Reserve, a back-up site had been confirmed with Palmerston North City Council and local iwi Rangitaane, where additional pōpokotea could have been translocated from.
Notes: Pōpokotea are easily killed by rats and stoats, and the destruction and fragmentation of their forest homes is also a big issue.
In a recent assessment of the threat status of New Zealand birds, the Department of Conservation recognised the importance of fenced sanctuaries and translocations for pōpokotea.
Bushy Park Tarapuruhi is a collaboration between the local Bushy Park Trust, Forest & Bird, and local iwi members of Ngaa Rauru Kiitahi. The Waitahinga source site is owned by Whanganui District Council, also within the same rohe.