The release of 17 hand-reared whio (blue duck) into Arthur’s Pass National Park later this week is a significant first, and one of a number of whio releases planned across Aotearoa over the coming months, Conservation Minister Kiri Allan says.
The whio – the rare whitewater river-loving native duck that Federated Farmers has championed in the last two annual ‘Bird of the Year’ awareness campaigns – will be released in the Mingha and Edwards valleys (the first time captive-reared birds have been released into the Canterbury side of the national park) and Deception valley.
They are the off-spring of breeding pairs which were raised from wild eggs collected from the West Coast, near Hokitika in the rohe of Ngāti Waewae.
“The release coincides with whio awareness month and signals the expansion of the recovery programme into the Ngāi Tūāhuriri rohe,” Allan said during a visit to The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust in Christchurch, where the whio were raised.
“The increased presence of whio in the park means more people will be able to connect with these special birds. Whio are generally seen and heard by trampers near rivers, so this release will add to that experience.”
The whio have been the subject of intensive predator trapping and breeding assistance programmes to boost their numbers and suitable habitat since 2006, after a survey showed that numbers in the Styx river valley near Hokitika had fallen to the dangerously low level of only 2-3 pairs.
Since that time, the whio recovery programme has expanded to include the Arahura, Kawaka, Taipo, Wainihinihi, and Deception Valleys,
“This has only been possible due to the efforts and backing of Genesis Energy, iwi, volunteers, and organisations like Isaacs and the Arthur’s Pass Wildlife Trust who help with breeding assistance programmes and support predator control efforts,” Allan said.
“Today, the combined total across all of the valleys sits at 40 pairs, with over 94km of trapping networks maintained by DOC staff and volunteers, while across New Zealand DOC has been able to protect 748 breeding pairs of whio, with 5080 traps over 1698km of river. This has resulted in a 151 per cent increase in pairs since 2011.
“It’s thanks to the important mahi of many, many dedicated people that we have these manu to release into the pristine mountain streams where they belong.”