South Island Kōkako Charitable Trust’s eleven year search

As Alert Level 2 allows New Zealanders to get back out in the backcountry the South Island Kōkako Charitable Trust renwes its plea to hear of any possible encounter with the elusive kōkako bird.

The South Island Kōkako Charitable Trust celebrates its tenth year in existence this May, whilst thirty reported sightings of the ancient and elusive New Zealand bird have been reported in the last six months.  

Founding trustees Ron Nilsson and Rhys Buckingham have been constantly alert for the south island kōkako since surveying vast tracts of native forest in the 1970s and 80s. Having worked for the NZ Wildlife Service, and becoming acutely aware of New Zealand’s vanishing natural heritage, they established the trust to broaden the search for kōkako on the south island and Stewart Island, and muster the resources for professional, systematic surveys. 

Trust chair Nigel Babbage said: “Both men, now in their 70s, are convinced that the south island kōkako is still there in our southern native forests. Today, they do all they can to maintain the search. Their efforts are driven by truly compelling suggestions of the bird’s survival. They’ve acquired those clues through observations of their own and from the reports of other backcountry folk.” 

The Department of Conservation lifted the bird’s conservation status from ‘extinct’ to ‘data deficient’ in 2013, acknowledging the possibility of survival after a number of reported sightings. In an attempt to encourage backcountry users to be alert for kōkako in their travels, the trust then launched a reward campaign in January 2017. 

The $10,000 reward offered for definite evidence of the bird has attracted widespread interest, and resulted in more than 200 new reports of possible encounters, many of which the trust considers credible and worth pursuing. An interactive map on the trust’s website allows backcountry users to see the most recent encounter sites.

“Now that Alert Level 2 allows us to get out into our forests again, we can renew our appeal to all outdoors people,” said Babbage. “When you’re out and about, tramping, hunting, biking or trapping for example, passing through native forest on foot, by bike or in a vehicle, please pay attention to unusual bird sounds and sights. We’d be delighted to hear of any possible encounter with this elusive and precious bird.

“As we head into our eleventh year, we believe the trust’s mission is as valid as ever. Of course, as time passes, it becomes more urgent,” he said. “We’ve been blown away by the interest and support we’ve received from Kiwis who cherish our natural heritage and the chance to participate in conserving this utterly distinctive part of it.”

Read edition 976 of the Wānaka Sun here.


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