The call of the great spotted kiwi/roroa would have rung clear in Arthur's Pass in 1864, the year Arthur Dudley Dobson led the first party of Europeans through the alpine crossing, and left his name behind.
But if the early explorer camped at Arthur’s Pass today, chances are silence may ring in his ears. In 2005, the number of great spotted kiwi/roroa near the pass was estimated at just 16.
But the tide is turning. The tiny community of Arthur’s Pass village, 737 metres above sea level and surrounded by the mountains, has joined with the Department of Conservation to take on stoats and other predators, and monitor the local roroa population. The project aims to make sure villagers and visitors can lie in bed at night and hear kiwi calling. ‘We want our children’s children to hear these birds call at night,’ says Melanie Nelson, member of the Arthur’s Pass Community Roroa Recovery Project.
The initiative has become a policy directive in the Arthur’s Pass National Park Management Plan. It builds on the work of volunteers who trapped stoats around the village and wider Bealey Valley for some years, and melds nicely with other pest control in the area, which aims to protect blue duck/whio, orange-fronted parakeets/kākāriki and kea. The combined efforts mean that as the kiwi population around Arthur’s Pass grows, birds should have territory with low levels of predators to move into.
As well as trapping stoats year-round, community volunteers don thick woollens to listen for kiwi on cold winter nights, part of the ongoing monitoring programme. Local volunteers also help with telemetry monitoring of the kiwi fitted with transmitters.
Raising people’s awareness about roroa, the mountaineer of kiwi, is also an important part of the group’s work. With 540,000 people on its Canterbury and West Coast doorsteps, plus huge numbers of travellers drawn to the area’s mountainous beauty, Arthur’s Pass is an ideal site to highlight and publicise the work, and the support of Kiwis for kiwi.
Size of area under protection
Stoat trap lines were originally set around Arthur’s Pass Village, and these have gradually been extended down the Bealey Valley as far as Klondyke Corner on the banks of the Waimakariri river, and up to the headwaters of the Otira River on the West Coast side of Arthur’s Pass. In many places these trap lines now join up with the predator control efforts of neighbouring organisations.
An extra dimension, introduced in 2008, was fitting radio transmitters to six adult roroa, one subadult and one juvenile. The community, with the Department of Conservation’s support, began monitoring chick survival rates to see whether the trapping regime enabled enough young roroa to be recruited to ensure the population’s survival. As well as guiding future management of local birds, the results are providing information for great spotted kiwi conservation in other Arthur’s Pass valleys and, potentially, for the species’ management in New Zealand.
Since the project began, the local community and other interested people have formed the Arthur’s Pass Wildlife Trust (APWT). It has increased the number of kiwi with transmitters to close to 30 birds which has enabled the Trust to begin gathering information about roroa, and assessing the breeding success of the local population.
This work has lead to the first successful monitoring of a wild roroa, from egg to adulthood, and has allowed volunteers to witness many hatchings, some successful. Much is also learnt from the unsuccessful breeding attempts and chick deaths that have occurred.
The APWT is coming closer to its goal of having all adult roroa in the vicinity of the Village wearing a transmitter to enable an accurate census of the local population.
Local are noticing further success in the number of other bird species around the village—populations have exploded since trapping began. Native bush robins/toutouwai now bounce around people gardening, and bellbirds/korimako, tomtits/ngirungiru, grey warblers/riroriro and other small birds fill the air with song. Resident populations of weka have returned to the Arthur’s Pass area in recent years and whio are being seen more regularly in the Bealey Valley.
Locals credit the Kiwis for kiwi-funded trapping project with the increased birdlife. Along with funding for traps, they also paid for a professional trapper to show villagers how best to locate, maintain, bait and check traps to get effective results. It also funded publicity material and the radio transmitters.
The one most important thing
The project benefits from strong local support—beginning in 2002, with one resident buying and setting 30 traps in and around Arthur’s Pass village. Arthur’s Pass Store provides eggs for the stoat traps and other locals now assist in a myriad of ways on a voluntary basis.
It has also captured the imagination of visitors who make donations at the Arthur’s Pass Store. Of particular note is the response of school children. The pupils of Cashmere Primary School, in Christchurch, were so taken iwth the project they raised $101 for saving kiwi in Arthur’s Pass; while those at Cust School, North Canterbury, have raised funds to buy stoat traps. This enabled the trap network to be extended down the Bealey Valley to the confluence with the Waimakariri River at Klondyke Corner.
If you would like to learn more about the group and its work, and/or volunteer your efforts, contact:
Judy Charles, Chairperson of the Arthur’s Pass Wildlife Trust
Mike Ambrose, Trustee of the Arthur’s Pass Wildlife Trust, Waimakariri Area Office,
Department of Conservation
Postal Address: PO Box 349, Rangiora 7440
Phone: 03 313 0828