More plaudits for Tiritiri Matangi

Date posted: 15-Jul-2019

Recognition of the wonderful experience visitors have when visiting the Island h..

Results of the 2019 Photo Competition

Date posted: 15-Jul-2019

The results of this year's competition have now been decided. Click here (/2019-photo-co..

Lighthouse Open Day

Date posted: 30-Apr-2019

Our historic lighthouse, signal station and diaphonic foghorn will all be on dis..

We need a new Treasurer

Date posted: 08-Apr-2019

The Supporters need a new treasurer to take over in September when Kevin Vaughan..

2019 Concert

Date posted: 05-Feb-2019

OrigiNZ, the tartan taonga are returning for the 2019 concert. Click..

Tiri's three unique foghorns

Date posted: 01-Feb-2019

Our next social event will take place on Monday 18th March when Carl Hayson and ..

Young Conservation Superstars win awards!

Date posted: 27-Jan-2019

Gabriel Barbosa and teacher Kate Asher, a team leader who co..

Entries for the 2019 photo competition

Date posted: 19-Jan-2019

We are now taking entries for the 2019 photographic competition. You can enter u..

Hihi volunteer needed

Date posted: 18-Oct-2018

Would you like to volunteer with the Island's hihi team and learn from them how ..

2019 Calendars now available

Date posted: 05-Sep-2018

The new 2019 calendars are now available and this year's is better than ever! Th..

The Transfer of Kokako to Paraninihi


Alison Bray

The first kokako arrived on Tiritiri Matangi in 1997.  These first birds were of Mapara descent and were sent in preparation for the main event, which was the translocation of birds from Taranaki.  Kokako in Taranaki were on the brink of extinction when the last survivor of the Taranaki population was captured and taken to Pukaha Mount Bruce.  His name was Tamanui.  He bred successfully with two females before his death in 2008.  All of his offspring were brought to Tiritiri in 2007 and 2008, where they, in turn, have bred.  We knew that the descendants of these founder birds would leave us one day, when predator control had made their ancestral home safe again.  That day arrived in May of this year.  After many years of hard slog and persistent belief in the cause, the team led by Conrad O’Carroll had gained approval for the return of Tamanui’s descendants to Parininihi, in North Taranaki.

The first translocation was of twelve birds.  We set up nets in the known territories of pairs who had Taranaki ancestry.  Unfortunately, some of them had nosey neighbours.  At the end of the week we had twelve birds in aviaries, five pairs and two single males.  They were cared for in the aviaries by the translocation team. Each morning Sharon Kast, our bird-care specialist, prepared a tempting dish of chopped fruit and vegetables.  Team members foraged for branches of plant species that kokako are known to like.  Added to this was a quota of wax moth larvae, which is a real delicacy for kokako.  They had fresh water each day along with jam water and a specialist bird food concoction.  After the initial shock of being caught the birds decided that this was pretty good service and most had gained weight by release day.

On the day of the transfer, most of the team went off on the public ferry, whilst the few experienced bird handlers remained to help Dr. Kevin Parker (translocation specialist) to catch the birds in the aviaries and put them into individual boxes for the drive down to Taranaki.  The idea was that the birds would sleep through this journey and that seems to have been the case.  Meanwhile, a large group of people gathered to spend the night at the Pukearuhe Marae, ready for the walk to the release site.

We were called at 5.30am, given breakfast by our wonderful Ngati Tama hosts and then assembled in the cold, dark pre-dawn to be given our final instructions.  The first part of the journey was by four-wheel drive vehicles and then we waited for the birds to arrive after waking.  Each box had a team of three carriers organized so that the journey could continue smoothly with fresh carriers as needed.  The boxes were heavy and had to be carried away from the legs of the bearers to avoid bumping.  Added to this, the path was muddy and slippery. It was hard to step without sliding, even without a heavy box and its precious passenger. 

Everyone made it down the 630 steps to the valley floor, then the path followed the valley and became much easier.  At last we came to a stop for final instructions from Kevin for the release.  There was still a small stream to cross, where the boxes were passed from hand to hand, and at last we were there.  A more beautiful place would be hard to imagine.  There was the murmur of the stream, the old, graceful trees slanting upwards towards the canopy of ancient forest.  It was perfect for kokako!

The crowd, more than 100 people, were asked for silence so as to cause the birds as little distress as possible.  Pair by pair the boxes were opened and the birds leapt out and bounded up the branches.  As if to say goodbye to us, they remained in the release area for some time as the silent crowd watched in awe and wondered at the soft contact calls.

For Conrad, this was the culmination of years of hard work against seemingly impossible odds.  He is a man of few words so I can only imagine the emotions that he must have felt.  His work will continue to keep the birds safe.  He is utterly devoted to this cause and we know our birds are in safe hands.

The locals, Iwi and Pakeha alike, felt the wonder of seeing and hearing these amazing birds up close.  For the Tiritiri contingent there was the experience of the beauty of the place and the rightness of the return. This was mixed with the sadness of knowing that these birds, who we knew so well, would disperse and probably never be seen by any of us again.  We knew the individuals and their personalities, the dynamics between pairs and between neighbours on Tiritiri.  The Island will seem strangely empty for a while, until the next breeding season begins to fill the gaps left by the voyagers.

A second translocation of eight more birds followed a month later, when three more pairs and two single birds went through the same process.  Birds from Pureora Forest will follow next year to increase the gene pool for this new population. 

Our visit to Pukearuhe Marae was concluded with celebrations, a formal powhiri and a hangi feast. The Tangata Whenua thanked us for our care of the birds and made us feel very welcome.  Old friendships were renewed and new ones forged. The dearest wish of the kokako team now is to return to Parininihi in future years and hear the song of the tamariki and mokopuna of our birds bringing those hills and valleys to life, as it was in the past before humanity interfered.