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History of Cape Sanctuary

Pest control has now been underway for six years. Rat tracking indices in the forested areas have declined from 30% in 2006 to an average of below 5% for the last three years. Ferret, stoat and weasel captures are low (only 17, 49 and 99 animals have been caught respectively since the project began). Possums and hedgehogs have almost been eradicated from the peninsula but feral cats still pose a problem with over 750 caught since 2007. Rabbits are also a problem, with the peninsula ranking as one of the worst rabbit prone areas in Hawke’s Bay.

Reintroductions began in 2007 with the transfer of locally common forest birds such as tomtit, whitehead, rifleman and robin. With the exception of tomtit none of the species are likely to have been present on the peninsula for at least 50 years. Robin, tomtit and whitehead were sourced from Maungataniwha Pine Forest, a 6500 ha block, two hours drive to the north and owned by Simon Hall. These species are now breeding successfully within the sanctuary and appear to prefer the pine forested areas rather than the regenerating native areas where they were initially released.

In 2008, the first North Island brown kiwi were released at the sanctuary. The majority of these have been sourced from Simon Hall’s Maungataniwha Native Forest block (6500 ha) as BNZ Operation Nest Egg, eggs or chicks. Kiwi Encounter in Rotorua has raised the young chicks to around 800 gm when they can be released back to the wild. Half of the chicks produced (now over 100) have been released at the sanctuary and half returned to Maungataniwha to boost the wild population. The target of 60 founders for Cape Sanctuary was reached in 2011 with kiwi also sourced from the Ruahine and Kaweka Ranges, and some from captive facilities. The first breeding attempts were detected this season. In time the sanctuary will be one of the largest secure sites for North Island brown kiwi capable of supporting 400+ pairs. For the last two years the sanctuary has also crèched kiwi chicks for other projects. This season, 45 young (2-3 week old) chicks, weighing only 300gm, have spent their first three months growing at the sanctuary before being returned to the wild to projects as far afield as Whirinaki.

Pateke or brown teal, releases began in 2008. Pateke are NZ’s rarest waterfowl numbering only 2000 or so in the wild. There were initially some doubts as to how well pateke would fare in the summer dry Cape environment. Following a trial release of 40 in May 2008 there have now been a total of 250 captive bred individuals released at the sanctuary. Survival of releases in the first two years was 60% which was higher than that achieved at other monitored sites. Breeding occurred in the first season and in both 2010 and 2011 seasons over 80 chicks survived to adult size. The sanctuary is now likely to be close to capacity.

Restoring seabird colonies to the peninsula has become a big focus over the last few years. With 17km of coastal perimeter, the sanctuary offers enormous potential to restore breeding colonies of a number of species. The dark, loamy soils on the cliff tops indicate that the area would have once been home to thousands and thousands of burrowing sea birds. Seabirds tend to return to the place they fledge from and so encouraging them to return to breed at sites that have become safe, such as the Cape Sanctuary is not that easy. Techniques to establish new colonies have involved transferring chicks from their natal burrows before they have emerged and hand raising them at the new site. In 2008, we began a six year programme to transfer and hand raise grey-faced petrel chicks collected from Moutohora Island, off the coast from Whakatane. 276 chicks have now been transferred to artificial burrows at the sanctuary. The chicks have been carefully fed a sardine “smoothie” using a crop tube until they fledge and begin their journey to maturity out at sea. At 5 to 7 years of age they are expected to return to the sanctuary to prospect and eventually breed. We are expecting prospectors anytime now.

Similar programmes have also been established for the endangered Cook’s petrel and common diving petrel. We have just completed the third year of Cook’s petrel chick transfers from Hauturu/Little Barrier Island and the first year of diving petrel chick transfers from Motumahanga Island, in the Sugar Loaf Group off the coast from New Plymouth. Feeding trials to test techniques to hand raise white-faced storm petrel (weighing a tiny 45g) and mottled petrel are also underway in preparation for chick translocation programmes beginning in 2013. A speaker system installed on the cliff edge that plays the calls of a range of species is also hoped to entice passers-by to investigate. The aim is to have a year round presence of breeding seabirds on the headland of the peninsula.

On 30th March 2012, 20 tuatara were collected from Nga Manu Wildlife Reserve in Waikanae and escorted to Cape Sanctuary by Ngati Koata, sanctuary landowners and staff for the first release onto the peninsula. The tuatara originated from Takapourewa (Stephen’s) Island in the Marlborough Sounds where they were collected as eggs. The eggs were incubated and hatched at Victoria University, Wellington and the young taken to Nga Manu when they were about a year old for rearing. The tuatara that have been released are approximately five years old. Other releases of older animals are planned for the near future.

Variable Oystercatcher are now breeding successfully in the sanctuary along with the rare New Zealand dotterel. In 2006, only one pair of NZ dotterel was known along the sanctuary coastline and despite sometimes producing chicks none were ever recorded to have fledged successfully. 18+ chicks were produced in the 2010 breeding season and nine pairs now have territories established next door to each other stretching from Rangaiika Beach south to Ocean Beach.

Little blue penguins are fairly numerous in the Hawke’s Bay. However, when the Cape Sanctuary project began, the peninsula had very little protective habitat for them to roost and nest in. The first volunteer project in 2006, involved constructing and digging in over 200 penguin boxes along the coastline. It took a few years for the penguins to find their new accommodation, but eventually in 2009 there were signs that penguins were using them. In 2010, at least 40 of the boxes were being used regularly and many over the last two seasons have contained eggs and chicks.

Volunteers play a huge part in this project. Over 600 have been involved with 50+ active monthly with regular chores such as servicing bait stations, monitoring rodents, feeding seabird chicks, monitoring weta and pateke, growing plants, planting plants, driving kiwi eggs and chicks, designing avaries, and building boxes and burrows. The Department of Conservation and local Iwi have also been very supportive of the efforts of the landowners. The achievements thus far would not have happened without the support of so many people.