Kōkako are once again singing in Taranaki after 12 birds were released at Parininihi Forest (North Taranaki) on Sunday.
This year marks 18 years since the last kōkako was moved from the forest near ParIninihi to a captive breeding programme by the Department of Conservation (DOC).
Gareth Hopkins, Operations Manager, Department of Conservation said returning kōkako to Parininihi is a fantastic achievement and a direct result of the incredible work undertaken by Ngāti Tama and the Tiaki Te Mauri O Parininihi Trust.
“This is the first re-introduction of kōkako into Taranaki since they became extinct in our region. It also upholds an agreement with Ngāti Tama that one day these birds would be returned to their rohe,” Gareth said.
Conrad O’Carroll, part of Tiaki te Mauri o Parininihi Trust, has been out in the bush three or four days every week for more than 10 years, maintaining over 90kms of tracks and establishing the trap network covering 1500 bait stations and hundreds of traps.
“The establishment of an extensive trapping infrastructure has caught over 4,000 pests and will continue to protect kōkako after their return.
“Bird life has already increased at Parininihi and kiwi foot prints are regularly seen in the forest,” said Conrad.
Conrad said, “the sheer size of the task has been one of the biggest challenges, but seeing the kōkako back in Parininihi – it has all been worth it!”
Kōkako were first released onto Tiritiri Matangi Island in 1997 and the descendants of Tamanui have been cared for by the Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi Island since their arrival on the Island in 2007 and 2008.
For Morag Fordham, the Kōkako Team Leader and her team of volunteer kōkako monitors it was an exciting but emotional day.
“Seeing these special birds returned to Parininihi, their ancestral home as each bird has unique traits and we feel we know them all personally,” Morag said.
Local Urenui resident, Paul Prip said he remembers kōkako singing in Taranaki.
“Working in the Moki forest near Parininihi in the mid 1980’s Paul remembers kōkako singing outside his hut.
“I have special memories of working amongst the birds and enjoying their singing when I would break for a cup of tea. I would love to experience that again,” Paul said.
Davis McClutchie, Chair, Tiaki te Mauri o Parininihi Trust said, “we have brought this taonga back for the whole of Taranaki.”
“We were fortunate to have many organisations, community groups and hardworking volunteers believe in our vision and our quest to bring back kōkako.
“And we would love to have the community come visit, help us monitor the kōkako and become more involved with the project,” said Davis.
Te Runanga o Ngāti Tama chairman Paul Silich said the return of kōkako to Parininihi was always going to be a very special occasion.
“The day Tamanui was caught DOC brought him to Pukearuhe Marae where he was named and blessed by elders of the Iwi. The seed for return of Tamanui’s off-spring and the rejuvenation of the forests they would come home to was sown on that day.
“Today we celebrate the vision of Ngāti Tama and DOC with the return home of Tamanui’s whanau to our Tupuna/Ancestor Parininihi, what a beautiful day,” Paul said.
The kōkako is part of the endemic New Zealand wattlebird species, which also includes the North and South Island saddleback.
Long missing from Taranaki, a massive conservation effort was instigated by Ngāti Tama (managed by The Trust) to bring the kōkako back to the Parininihi area of North Taranaki.
Tiaki te Mauri o Parininihi Trust was formed in 2012 to guide and support the work at Parininihi, and includes people from Ngāti Tama and the wider community. The Trust aims to restore and protect the values of Parininihi, by undertaking a major long-term ecological management project that includes pest control, species recovery and translocations.
The return of kōkako to Taranaki is a central aim of The Trust, but the Parininihi project itself is much bigger than just bringing the kōkako back. The kōkako is the “umbrella species” for Parininihi. Other rare and interesting wildlife and plants, including the kiwi, scarab beetle, king fern, diving petrels and the banded kokopu, will benefit from the conservation decisions made for the kōkako.