Kōkako are once again singing in Taranaki after 20 birds were released at Parininihi Forest in May and July 2017. The returned kōkako are descendants of Tamanui (the last kōkako of Taranaki) and came from Tiriti Matangi Island.
It’s been 18 years since the last kōkako was moved from the forest near Parininihi to a captive breeding programme by the Department of Conservation (DOC).
The return of kōkako is a direct result of the intensive pest control work and the on-going improvements to trapping that has caught over 4,000 pests.
We have seen an increase in bird life in the Parininihi Forest, including kereru, korimako fantails and toutouwai/robins. Kiwi foot prints are now often seen in the forest and there is a noticeable improvement in the understory due to low goat numbers and the overall condition of foliage is looking good.
In 1999 the last Taranaki kōkako, ‘Tamanui’ was removed from the Moki Forest (North Taranaki), on the understanding that his progeny would be returned once the damaged eco-system was restored and a safe breeding site established. Tiritiri Matangi has provided a safe haven for breeding and Tamanui’s descendants have multiplied. It is now time to bring them back to Taranaki.
Kōkako are part of the ancient wattlebird family and are cousins of the extinct huia and the endangered tieke (saddleback). Kōkako were once widespread throughout the lowland forests of Aotearoa, but predation and loss of habitat has taken a heavy toll.
Kokako are famous for their haunting call, like deep ringing bells. Their song carries for a great distance and is heard mostly at dawn,when birds call to maintain their territories. Pairs may duet for up to half an hour, with other kokako joining in to form a “bush choir”. Calling is so important that recorded calls are played when kokako are released to help “anchor” the birds in new areas.
Mature podocarp-hardwood forest provides the diverse food supply that Kokako need. The rich forests at Parininihi provides the food and shelter required for kōkako to bread successfully. The abundant food supply, however also benefits rats, stoats and possums. In order to ensure the safety of the returning kōkako, intensive animal pest control needs to be maintained to keep rats, stoats, possums and goats to very low numbers.