Saved by one Queen and brought home by another: Rimatara Lorikeet returns to the Cook Islands
No publication or broadcast before 00:01 GMT Thursday 27 September 2007
Cook Islands, Pacific: Around 100 years ago, the Queen of Rimatara in French Polynesia, imposed a tapu (taboo) which saved the last naturally-occurring island population of one of the Pacific’s most beautiful parrots. Now her royal counterpart, the traditional Queen of Atiu in the Cook Islands, has accompanied 27 of the birds on the journey back to her island, from which they had been absent for more than two centuries.
The Rimatara Lorikeet Vini kuhlii is green above, with crimson-red face and under-parts, and purple patches on the back of its neck and on its belly. It was extinct in Atiu and the other southern Cook Islands before 1820, hunted for its brilliant red feathers, which were used in ceremonial costumes. Since then, the tree-climbing, egg-eating Black or Ship’s Rat has become widely established in French Polynesia and the Cook Islands, devastating two other Pacific parrot species, the Blue Lorikeet and the Ultramarine Lorikeet.
Gerald McCormack of the Cook Islands Natural Heritage Trust  led the reintroduction, after confirming that Atiu was not only free of Black Rats, but also had the same trees and shrubs as Rimatara, ensuring that the birds would find the nectar and fruit they needed.
"...the lorikeet is a symbol of joy and wellbeing." —Gerald McCormack, Cook Islands Natural Heritage Trust
McCormack received funds from the British Birdwatching Fair 2006 , which raised money for the BirdLife International  project “Saving the Pacific’s Parrots”. He was helped by the Ornithological Society of Polynesia (MANU, the BirdLife Partner Designate in French Polynesia), Te Ipukarea Society (TIS, the BirdLife Affiliate in the Cook Islands), and the Zoological Society of San Diego (ZSSD).
“But the reintroduction would not have been possible without the vision and generosity of the people of Rimatara, for whom the lorikeet is a symbol of joy and wellbeing,” McCormack said. “On previous occasions the removal of birds from their island resulted in the birds’ deaths, a phenomenon they attributed to the tapu of their late Queen. The community finally agreed to the reintroduction programme only after they understood how the spread of the Ship Rat had destroyed island populations of the Blue Lorikeet and the Ultramarine Lorikeet, and that there was a scarcity of suitable ship-rat-free islands in French Polynesia. By agreeing, the community made it very clear that they were sharing their bird with Atiu so it could live in the wild without interference, and that it should never be transferred to any other island or country.”
After their arrival in the Cook Islands, the birds and the reintroduction team were greeted with elaborate welcoming ceremonies. The celebrations went on for four days.
There have been regular sightings since. McCormack says the birds have spread over the whole 30 km2 of the island of Atiu. "As of August, sunny-day flocks are up to 13 birds and some apparent pairs are being reported. We are now organizing a community contest to find the first juveniles as evidence of breeding."
Press/photos: Jules Howard, Communications Officer, BirdLife International. Tel: +44 (0)1223 279809; Mobile: +44 (0)7971069098; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Interviews: Gerald McCormack, Director, Cook Islands Natural Heritage Trust, phone (682) 20959; email: email@example.com
British Birdwatching Fair: Tim Appleton, Reserve Manager, Rutland Water Nature Reserve, Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, 01572 770651 or Martin Davies, RSPB International Division and Birdfair Co-organiser, 01767 680551; Mobile 07786 514004
BirdLife species factsheet: Rimitara Lorikeet
The upcoming World Birdwatch article ‘Rimitara Lorikeet’s return’ contains extensive information on the Rimitara Lorikeet translocations. A PDF of this article can be emailed out on request.
This press release comes as part of BirdLife’s Preventing Extinctions initiative. Already described as the biggest and most wide-ranging bird conservation programme the world has ever seen, BirdLife’s Preventing Extinctions initiative aims to save the world’s most threatened birds, by finding ‘Species Champions’ who will fund the work of identified ‘Species Guardians’ for each bird - organisations and people best placed to carry out the conservation work necessary to prevent an otherwise certain extinction. Find out more: BirdLife: Preventing Extinctions
Notes for Editors:
 The Cook Islands Natural Heritage Trust is a programme of the Cook Islands Government: a) to collect and integrate scientific and traditional information on local plants and animals; and b) to preserve such information, and make it available to the general public.
For more information: http://cookislands.bishopmuseum.org
 BirdLife International is a global alliance of conservation organisations working in more than 100 countries and territories. BirdLife is the leading authority on the status of birds, their habitats and the problems affecting them.
 British Birdwatching Fair (or Birdfair) is a spectacular annual event, co-organised by the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust. For further information: www.birdfair.org.uk