Whio Recovery Project

The Central North Island Sika Foundation is leading the Kaimanawa Whio Recovery Project. The Central North Island Sika Foundation, along with NZDA Taupo branch, meet with the Department of Conservation Taupo on a regular bases and discuss issues that are relevant to all parties involved and also supply volunteers to carry out work such as track clearing and replacing markers, hut maintenance and cleaning up rubbish from popular camp sites in remote locations in the Kaimanawa Forest Park.

At one of our regular meetings, which was held at DOC Taupo office on 20 June 2018, we raised the prospect of being involved in a predator control project in the Kaimanawa Forest Park. It was agreed that a good project to start with would be predator control along the Kaipo and Oamaru Rivers, the two main tributaries at the source of the Mohaka River, to protect the struggling Whio populations that are in this area.

The following plan was agreed to and put in place:

The Sika Foundation will supply all the volunteers needed to carry out this project from setting out the trap lines to regular ongoing maintenance of the trap lines.

The Sika Foundation, NZDA Taupo branch, Hunters & Habitats and DOC Taupo donated $5000 each to start the project, these funds went directly to suppling Goodnature A24 traps. With the $20,000, we were able to purchase 110 Goodnature A24 stoat and rat traps complete with lure and counters.

These traps are perfect for this type of remote location as once set in place can be left for six months before they need servicing, they have a small automatic lure pump and gas canister attached, and once the trap is triggered it will reset and continue to kill predators for six months before the gas canister and lure pump need replacing.

Although the traps don’t need servicing for six months, we go into the area at regular intervals to check the counters and maintain the traps to determine how many predators we are killing and check the Whio population.

We organised two teams to go into the area on the 27 – 29 July 2018 to carry out a survey of the Kaipo River from the swing bridge to the Oamaru Hut and the Oamaru River from the Waitawhero Stream to Oamaru Hut, approximately 10 km on each river.

The survey was to determine how many Whio were resident, so we could decide where to place the first line of traps, which need to cover at least 6 km of river to be effective, placed at 100m intervals staggered on each side of the river. One pair of Whio were encountered on each river demonstrating how urgent it was to get this project under way.

On Friday 17 August 2018 a team of 12 volunteers went into the Oamaru hut and set out 110 Goodnature A24 traps along the Kaipo River from the swing bridge down to the confluence with the Oamaru River, protecting just over 10 km of the Kaipo river.

The first check on the traps was carried out after 32 days with 183 kills recorded. The second check carried out 63 days after the first check recorded a further 195 kills, making a total of 378 kills after 95 days, a very satisfying result with dead stoats, rats, mice and even a hedgehog being found under the traps.

The Goodnature A24 traps are certainly proving to be very effective, especially in a reasonably remote location such as this where they can be left for extended periods without requiring any maintenance.

Even more satisfying was seeing a pair of adult Whio with five healthy young ones in the area we have the traps, so really exciting to see evidence of positive results at this early stage. 

We then raised sufficient funding to purchase a further 73 Goodnature A24 traps to complete stage 2 of the project, the 10 km of the Oamaru River from the Waitawhero Stream to the confluence with the Kaipo River, giving us 20km of river protected in this location. These traps were installed by a team of 16 volunteers on the 15 – 16 February 2019.

We are now raising funds for stage 3 of the project to protect a further 10km of Whio habitat in the area. This is a long-term project which could take up to five years before we see a real increase in Whio numbers. We will continue expanding the area protected within this location to create more safe stretches of river as young birds mature and start breeding in larger numbers and dispersing to new territories within the area.

The project has now received national recognition, being included in the DOC Whio forever programme as an official Whio Recovery Site.

Quote from Andrew Glaser, Department of Conservation Whio Recovery Group Leader:

“Great initiative by our Hunters to showcase what can be achieved through their capable skills in the bush. This effort and the level of commitment the team has shown qualifies this as our newest “Whio Recovery Site”. Through your efforts and the management of the whio predators the Kaimanawa Forest whio population will flourish in an area where we didn’t previously have any representation. We greatly appreciate your teams support and keen to help out where we can.“

The Sika Foundation is hugely appreciative of the support received from sponsors for this exciting and nationally important conservation project, as without this generous support we would not have a project.

Also a big thanks to the dedicated team of volunteers who have given their time to make this project possible, many travel significant distances, take time off work and give up their spare time just to be involved.

A special thanks to Poronui for allowing us vehicle access through their property, without this access it would not be feasible to maintain this project, and also Heliska who donate helicopter flying time to drop off equipment and teams to the more remote areas of the project.