Custodian of the Highcountry
We all care about something. In today’s world what you care about is often assumed to define the parameters of your existence and expanding those parameters is the only option for a better future. Taking responsibility and becoming a custodian for the values and elements of life that seem precious is the ultimate expression of those cares.
Kea are remarkable. We use the term ‘remarkable’ all too easily but here for once is a bird that definitely deserves that description. Kea are undoubtedly one of our most engaging and endearing birds, if also occasionally a little troublesome. They are exceptionally social and intelligent, and don’t hesitate to first explore and then exploit any new food resource. Rather like us I suppose. Unfortunately the kea’s ability to identify new food sources lead it to discover the fat around the kidneys of sheep. Whether kea ever made any significant inroads into the profitability of highcountry farming in New Zealand is matter of debate but it did result in these birds being legally persecuted for decades, only receiving legal protection in 1983. By that time an estimated 150,000 birds had been killed for the reward available. Today kea number probably less than 5,000 birds and what little data we have suggests they are collapsing in numbers. The cause is no longer the price on their heads but the impacts of introduced predators, kea, after all, nest on the ground where the chicks and females are easy prey for rats, stoats and cats. But fortunately for kea they have strong support in the form of the Kea Conservation Trust. This trust is championing the recovery and conservation management of these remarkable birds.
The folks that work for and with the trust are the custodians of these birds and the habitats they represent. In an attempt to share that passion and give an insight into what drives us to these passions I’ve put a little mini-documentary together kindly featuring my good friend and colleague Paul Van Klink: https://vimeo.com/71959240
Together with Paul and Tom Belton of the Department of Conservation and colleagues in Christchurch led by Michelle Crowell we are currently working on a bait repellent strategy as unfortunately kea suffer some non-target deaths during 1080 toxin operations that we conduct to control stoats and possum at a landscape scale. Following these pest control operations their survival and fledgling success rates are significantly elevated but due to their current small population size and on-going declines from introduced predators we need to work hard to avoid any unnecessary deaths. We’ve been working on a primary and secondary bait repellent with the aim of achieving learned taste aversion in the kea but of course there is a complication. Whilst it’s easy to include additives that repel kea in baits, those additives also risk repelling the very pests we are aiming to control through poisoning. It’s not a great situation but the responsibility rests with us to ensure these birds survive the Anthropocene and currently it takes toxins to ensure that. Early results are now accumulating and they look pretty mixed. Nobody said conservation biology was easy.
If you want to learn more or get involved with the conservation of these characters head over to the http://www.keaconservation.co.nz/