In 1992 Dr John McLennan of Land-care Research chose Puketukutuku and Whareama Peninsulas, at the western end of Lake Waikaremoana, as locations for his study of the notion that predation of kiwi, particularly predation of chicks by stoats, was the principal cause of kiwi decline throughout New Zealand.
The hapu of Waikaremoana have been involved in the kiwi recovery effort in the area since the study began. A significant portion of Puketukutuku Peninsula is owned by various whanau, and they gave consent for the study to be undertaken there. They are party to the project also through the New Zealand Conservation Corps scheme of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and DOC, as employees of DOC, as volunteer helpers on the trap lines, and as advisors and contributors at planning meetings with DOC and Landcare Research.
Waikaremoana hapu have a legitimate sense of ownership in the project, arising from our substantial involvement over the past decade. We have done the hard work, just as the other partners have. We know what is involved and are now are at the point where we wish to assume full responsibility for the programme over the next year, to protect it from future risks, such as cuts in funding to DOC. Staff at the local DOC office, at Aniwaniwa, support the concept of management by Waikaremoana hapu and are working to bring it to fruition. It would be a win-win situation for both parties and for the New Zealand taxpayer. As hapu progressively fund more and more of the kiwi-recovery effort—with help from such organisations as the Bank of New Zealand Kiwi Recovery Trust—DOC can divert funds elsewhere.
The combined conservation effort of the two parties should be greater than each could manage on its own, with benefits for all New Zealanders. We want the programme to run beyond the lives of individuals, political parties and government agencies. We recognise that the best way to ensure its continuation is to take responsibility for it. The conservation effort that we are making on our ancestral lands is indicative of the contribution that iwi and hapu elsewhere want to make on their lands. This is an “energy” that the kiwi recovery group can tap into, for the benefit of kiwi conservation throughout the country.
The core of the Waikaremoana kiwi project is the control of predators, primarily stoats, by trapping. The Lake Waikaremoana Hapu Restoration Trust (LWHRT) has a four-person team for undertaking predator management, as well as tasks such as the construction of an anti-dispersal fence (see below) and kiwi enclosure, maintenance of a worm farm and assisting with kiwi monitoring. The team also undertakes conservation initiatives not connected with the kiwi project, such as running Nga Tipu a Tane, a native plant nursery at Te Kura o Waikaremoana for the propagation of seeds from the endangered ngutukaka (kakabeak).
Predator control for the most part entails trapping stoats in covered Fenn traps baited with white hens’ eggs. The lures need to be changed regularly, particularly in summer, and the traps set and maintained. Some 1400 traps have been laid along 67 km of trap lines throughout the 1500 ha Puketukutuku Peninsula and the neighbouring Pukehou area. Weasels and a large number of rats are caught in the traps, and the team also undertakes cage-trapping of larger predators, including ferrets and feral cats.
Pigs have to be controlled to prevent them from stealing the hens’ eggs and turning over the trap covers in the process, thereby exposing the traps—a danger to kiwi and other bird life. The Waikaremoana Pig Hunting Club and a professional hunter contracted to DOC both remove pigs from Puketukutuku Peninsula, and the trust team has recently replaced the open-bottomed trap covers originally used with a fully enclosed design. The hunting contractor targets deer, too, and there is also an annual possum cull.
During 2004–05, 117 stoats, 3 weasels, 614 rats and 2 cats were removed from the Puketukutuku–Pukehou predator-control area.
In the same season, 12 kiwi pairs were monitored and between them laid 23 eggs. Six eggs were sent to Westshore Wildlife Reserve, in Napier, from where two chicks were returned for release onto the peninsula. Four chicks fledged before we were able to get transmitters on them, and three chicks died, one in captivity from liver failure, one predated and one caught in a trap. Eight out of nine chicks released into the wild survived to the relatively stoat-proof weight of 800 g, at which the annual survival rate is 88 per cent. Since a 28 per cent annual survival rate is sufficient to maintain the kiwi population, provided there is effective predator control and some chick-rearing in captivity, we are successfully increasing the kiwi population.
If something goes wrong during natural incubation, eggs can be artificially incubated by professional kiwi rearers. Westshore Wildlife Reserve and, in Rotorua, Rainbow Springs Nature Park participate in Operation Nest Egg, a programme of egg-hatching, chick-rearing and releases back into the wild that is central to the Kiwi Recovery Programme (a joint initiative of DOC, BNZ and the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society). Many kiwi have survived to breed at Waikaremoana because of the efforts of these places.
When John McLennan surveyed the adult kiwi population on Puketukutuku Peninsula in 1993, he counted 24 birds. Kiwi-call surveys each May indicate how the population has increased since 1993 through the removal of predators, primarily stoats. Estimated numbers are: 1993=24, 2003=51, 2004=65, 2005=76.
The slow progress over the 10 year period from 1993 to 2003 reflected the large number of young kiwi that walked off the peninsula into areas with dense predator populations. The Waikaremoana kiwi project management plan written by John McLennan and colleague Jonathan Miles identified the need to keep juvenile kiwi in the safety of the peninsula, which can support as many as 150–200 birds. To this end, an anti-dispersal fence has been constructed across the base of the peninsula. Designed to prevent kiwi from straying, it has electrified wires on its outer side to stop pigs and deer from damaging its main structure and to deter them from passing into the kiwi recovery area. The fence is 1.65 km long and runs across some very rugged terrain. It is monitored by camera and is currently the focus of a two year research project which aims to determine its effectiveness as a kiwi management tool.
In some parts of the central North Island all kiwi have perished and environmental-restoration projects need to build up populations from scratch. Captive rearing is invaluable in these circumstances, and Westshore Wildlife Reserve has been involved in such projects for a number of years. A review of its breeding kiwi revealed it was running the risk of inbreeding. In response to a proposal put forward by the reserve management and the national kiwi recovery group, the LWHRT and DOC agreed to allow four Waikaremoana chicks, obtained from eggs hatched at Westshore, to be retained for breeding there. Three were taken from the 2004–05 crop and one will be retained from the 2005–06 output. We are happy to contribute to broader kiwi restoration. It has been agreed that these captive birds will be released back to their turangawaewae after 12 years.
Our mahi at Lake Waikaremoana, one of the most unspoiled lakes in the country, is important to both Maori and non-Maori and to kiwi research and environmental restoration projects. The type of work we do is inter-generational: we need to lay a foundation today on which future generations can continue to build if the kiwi is to survive and the unique native fl ora and fauna of Lake Waikaremoana are to regenerate and flourish in the future. If we do not start now, our region and our country may lose important plant, animal and insect species forever. The work is vital—not only to local hapu, but to all of New Zealand.
Tihe! Mauri Ora!