In 2011, Red Alert is doing a few new things. One of them is to introduce you to some confirmed Labour candidates who will do the occasional guest post.Today’s guest poster is Christine Rose, the candidate for Rodney.
Kokako are one of New Zealand’s most beautiful songbirds. They sing in ‘gently paced, wistful tunes’, with an ‘organ-like song’ that can carry for kilometres. They are distinguished by their dusky grey plumage, their bright blue fleshy wattles and a little black face mask. They skip through the forest more than they fly, and come from an ancient lineage. But kokako have been pushed to the brink of extinction by habitat loss and predation.
Kokako were once widespread, found in the North and South Islands. But they are particularly vulnerable because of their poor flying ability, unable to flee from forest destruction to new habitats, and with females on the nest most prone to predation. One study found only about one chick in 10 nests survives.
In the 1980s there were only about 350 pairs of blue wattled, North Island, kokako left. Through good pest control and protection of remaining birds, (by volunteers and DoC), the population is now about 750 pairs and the aim of the National Kokako Recovery project is to have 1000 pairs in dispersed locations, by 2020. In Auckland, a small population of mainly male kokako remained in the Hunua Ranges, but they were totally extinct in the Waitakeres.
Over the last few years passionate and hardworking Forest & Bird conservationists have worked with the old Auckland Regional Council and iwi to restore the biodiversity of the Waitakere Ranges to its former glory. The Waitakere rainforest on the edge of the country’s biggest city covers over 17,000 hectares. More than 2000 hectares is now home to ‘Ark in the Park’ where species are being revived.
Since 2009 24 kokako have been translocated from different parts of the country, returning their melodious song to the forest where once they roamed. Last year at least three kokako chicks were fledged. This is a testament to the difference that committed individuals can make to a most worthy a cause – saving a species.
At our recent celebration to mark Ark in the Park’s successful efforts to save this species, the question was repeatedly asked why we’re seeing cuts to Department of Conservation funding when we have species like this on the brink. There certainly are amazing DoC workers who devote their lives to kokako and conservation. However, recent retrenchments in conservation budgets show the current government’s priorities lie elsewhere.
That’s another reason why this election is so important. A huge number of New Zealand’s endemic species are on the global critically endangered list. This is not the right time to cut conservation budgets. Our species, habitats, forest fragments, are the store of ecological capital, of hope for the future. Species, and our reputation, depend on our environment. Cuts to conservation budgets can only endanger these further, despite the amazing work of conservationists on the ground. Extinction is forever.
The South Island kokako, with its orange wattles is now most certainly extinct, and known as ‘the grey ghost’. How New Zealanders vote at this election, may determine whether our other special species like the North Island kokako, also join the ranks of forest ghosts.
Labour has a great track record working with the environmental sector on species and habitat recovery. That’s why, as a lifelong conservationist, I’m standing for Labour.
Christine Rose served the Rodney area as an elected representative for 15 years between 1995 and 2010. She was Deputy Mayor of the Rodney District Council, and Deputy Chair of the Auckland Regional Council. She chaired various committees including the ARC’s Transport Committee and the Regional Land Transport Committee which led the development of the Regional Transport Strategy.