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How did the Howick Tramping Club become involved in kokako recovery in the Northern Pureora?
The Northern Pureora is an area of high ecological value. The Mangatutu Ecological Area contains a rare and pristine rimu/tawa forest inhabited by the nationally vulnerable North Island kokako as well as other threatened and vulnerable bird species e.g. kaka, kereru, karearea, long-tailed cuckoo, kakariki and NI fernbird. Healthy populations of the more common North island robins, tomtit, bellbird, grey warbler, whitehead, fantail, shining cuckoo and tui thrive here.
It is thought that the remnant population of kokako in the Mangatutu Ecological Area was saved from local extinction by the aerial 1080 applications of the 1980s. Laurence Gordon began predator control in 1995 to protect 7 pair, 5 single and 9 juvenile kokako by installing bait stations over 500 hectares, doubling this to 1000ha in 1996.
In 1997 the Howick Tramping Club began helping Laurence to distribute rat poison in bait stations. When Laurence’s funding ran out in 2003 the HTC established a Conservation Subcommittee to help manage the project and to pursue funding. This was successful and the Northern Pureora Kokako Recovery Project continues to be an integral part of the HTC’s itinerary.
Rosemary Gatland who began helping Laurence as a volunteer in 1995 has also made a huge contribution, developing the Mangatutu bait station network by a further 500ha which now includes some Whakatere Maori Trust Land and an area of private farmland.
Our volunteer base broadened considerably as the bait station network expanded with The Pukekohe TC, Toi Toi Trekkers, Auckland TC and individual volunteers helping to manage the increasing workload.
The Tunawaea, approximately 3km from the Mangatutu, has a mix of original and logged bush which is regenerating slowly. In 1986, 1988 and 1993 the Tunawaea was the site of kokako monitoring to assess the effect of the aerial application of 1080 on kokako with the outcome that almost all the kokako were located post-1080. Later 1080 drops would have helped the survival of these kokako but no significant ground-based predator control was maintained in this area. It came as some surprise in 2010 when Paul Jansen and his team, after an unsuccessful attempt to capture the elusive Mangatutu kokako, turned their attention to the Tunawaea readily catching 11 kokako for translocation to Ark In The Park.
With support from DOC, Rosemary and volunteers began setting up a bait station network to protect the remaining 13 pair and 2 single kokako. The Tunawaea now encompasses 600ha with the Auckland Tramping Club distributing rat poison with support from Mangatutu volunteers. Wallace Narbey liaises between the Tunawaea and Mangatutu and Duncan and Rhonda Oliver provide accommodation and gear storage for the Auckland TC on their farm.
6-yearly aerial 1080 drops applied by the Animal Health Board to control TB transmission from possums to cattle have kept possum numbers low over the life of the project. Hence our baiting regime targets rats. Rat numbers should decrease as the poison takes effect and our aim is
Since 2010 our baiting regime of diphacinone pellets mixed with RatAbate paste has proven to be very effective at increasing bait uptake and reducing the RTI. Packing bait in plastic bags to place in bait stations has been done for some years and helps keep the bait in good condition for longer.
Although we have had some years where we have not been able to reduce the RTI to target levels, overall the kokako population has shown a significant increase at each census. In 2012 a remarkable 109 kokako pair where calculated to be present in the Mangatutu.
The NZ Native Forest Restoration Trust provide us with accommodation on Rangitoto Station and their house is the hub of our operation. Some revegetation was done in the Trust's early days but since then the regeneration has occurred naturally. Predator control with bait stations and DOC200 traps are set up along the Rangitoto Station roads, while bait stations continue along the back road through the Cowan Wildlife Reserve to connect with the Tunawea creating a narrow corridor of predator control linking our two areas.
Our funding has come from various sources, donations and revegetating the cleared and levelled ground around the transmitter on nearby Mt Ranginui. DOC Maniapoto in Te Kuiti provide invaluable advice and technical support and also carry out the four-yearly kokako census - the gold standard by which we measure the success of our predator control.
As a result of our increasing bird numbers, translocations have become more frequent. Kokako have been translocated to Mt Bruce/Pukaha and Ark In The Park and a robust population of NI robins has allowed translocation to establish new populations in Puketi (Bay of Islands) and Mt Pirongia where they are successfully breeding. Ark In The Park have also taken robins to supplement their existing stock.