Alongside the rippling waters of Lake Waikaremoana, among the ancient trees of Te Urewera National Park, huge efforts are being made to protect kiwi.
The Lake Waikaremoana Hapu Restoration Trust is restoring the lake side’s brown kiwi population, estimated to have declined by 90% since 1920 to fewer than 35 kiwi wpread over 5000 hecatares of forest.
The project was sparked in 1992 when Dr John McLennan, of Landcare Research, chose the area to test his theory that the main cause of kiwi deaths is predation – in particular, stoats killing chicks while they are still too small to defend themselves.
Other researchers, tangata whenua and the Department of Conservation (DOC) joined in to help and, when the study ended nine years later, the theory was proven to be true. The findings had a huge and immediate influence on the work being done to save kiwi all around New Zealand – and at Lake Waikaremoana.
With equipment and services donated by Landcare Research, tangata whenua took over managing the predators on Puketukutuku Peninsula, while DOC focused on monitoring the kiwi population.
The main approach was to create a ’mainland island’ on the peninsula. First, an intensive trapping programme was established with more than 1000 traps spread throughout the peninsula and nearby land. Next, a predator-proof enclosure was built to keep kiwi chicks safe when the forest’s stoat population exploded. Also, a worm farm (using native worms) was set up to provide extra food.
However, between 1993 and 2003, too many young birds walked out of the safety of the peninsula and into the mouths of predators, slowing down the population’s recovery. That led to a kiwi-proof fence being built across the neck of Puketukutuku Peninsula to keep the kiwi in the safe zone.
Trapping predators, particularly stoats, is at the core of the Waikaremoana Kiwi Project and the Trust has a 4-person team on the job. While stoats are the main focus, the team also traps larger predators, such as ferrets and cats, and deals with wild pigs.
Size of area under protection
About 1400 traps are laid out along lines throughout the 1500 hectares of the Puketukutuku Peninsula and neighbouring Pukehou area. Although they target stoats, weasels and a large number of rats are also caught.
By far the biggest challenge for Waikaremoana’s kiwi team is keeping stoat levels down.
When Dr McLennan surveyed the adult kiwi population on Puketukutuku Peninsula in 1993, he counted just 24 kiwi and the lake catchment’s population was considered on the brink of extinction. By 2005, thanks to the intensive efforts to get rid of stoats, the kiwi population had trebled to 76. Today, the peninsula’s kiwi population has fully recovered and is now estimated at 50 pairs, with 30–70 juveniles. The goal of having 150–200 kiwi living there has been achieved and the peninsula is now at its carrying capacity.
Another success came in 2007, when DOC handed over the project’s management to the hapu—probably the first time iwi had been given full responsibility for species work on public conservation land. It has been running the project single-handedly since then.
The hapu is now transferring the knowledge and hard work to another of the Lake Waikaremoana’s peninsulas—the 450-hectare Wareama Peninsula. It is controlling predators and building a fence to prevent juvenile birds leaving the new safe zone. Surplus kiwi will be moved from Puketukutuku to Whareama at a rate of 30 birds each year for two years. It is expected Whareama’s population will be restored in just two years.
Lisa Waiwai would like to especially thank Kiwis for kiwi for the support it gives the Waikaremoana project – not only with funding, but also with mentoring, guidance and support.
Other support for the Lake Waikaremoana Kiwi Restoration Project – both funding and research – comes from many private, community and corporate associates and sponsors, including:
- Te Puni Kokiri and Lotteries Environment and Heritage
- Genesis Energy
- WWF – New Zealand
- Manaaki Whenua
- Grandma’s Slipper Club
The One Most Important Thing
Everyone agrees that the most important thing a new group should do is surround itself with a good support group that has passion for the project.