Shore Plovers head south
One of New Zealandís rarest waders, the threatened Shore Plover Thinornis novaeseelandiae, is set to spread its wings at a new offshore island location off the South Island early in 2006.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) and its partners in the Shore Plover Recovery Programme are gearing up to transfer 10-30 captive-bred birds to the new site each year, for approximately five years. This follows closely the success of the previous transfer programme to an island off the East Coast of the North Island which is free of introduced predators such as cats and stoats.
That release programme came to a close earlier this year because the site now has a self-sustaining and increasing population currently comprising approximately 80 birds. This follows the release of more than 160 birds there over the past seven years. It will now be managed as a very valuable established population by preventing introduced predators from accessing the island and monitoring population health.
As with the only other previous (though unsuccessful) transfer of birds Shore Plovers at Motuora Island in the Hauraki Gulf near Auckland, the birds to be transferred south will be raised at DOCís Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre and the Isaac Wildlife Trust in Christchurch. DOC currently has seven pairs at Mt Bruce, and the Isaac Wildlife Trust has three pairs.
"The Shore Plover is one of several threatened New Zealand bird species which are being saved from extinction through reintroduction to mammalian predator-free islands. Their spectacular recoveries, following such drastic intervention, are renowned conservation successes worldwide." —Ali Stattersfield, Head of Science, BirdLife International
The current wild population of the Shore Plover is aproximately 200 birds. The recovery programme has a ten year goal of maintaining or establishing Shore Plovers at five or more locations with a combined population over 250 birds. If achieved this will mean increased insurance for the species against extinction and down-listing from Endangered on the IUCN Red List to the lower threat category of Vulnerable.
Currently there are populations at South-East and Mangere islands in the Chatham group, and at an undisclosed island location off the East Coast of the North Island. This island is privately-owned and its location is not publicised to respect landowner wishes.
Two male birds remain in the wild at Beehive Island near Motuora Island. In the absence of any female Shore Plovers there, the two males are to be captured and taken to Mount Bruce where they will become part of the captive breeding programme for the planned transfers south.
"Forest and Bird welcomes this exciting new initiative. It is the success of this project and others like it that are helping to keep hope alive for New Zealand's threatened endemic bird species," said Mike Britton, the General Manager of Forest and Bird (BirdLife in New Zealand).
This story first appeared in the August 2005 issue of the Forest and Bird magazine