Kakī population soars under predator control

The world’s rarest wading bird is coming back from the brink of extinction.

An adult kakī/black stilt.

An adult kakī/black stilt. Photo: Supplied

A 40 year protection programme for the black stilt – or Kakī – has seen the birds’ adult population rise by 31 percent recently.

They are only found in the upper Waitaki and Mackenzie Basins.

Their numbers have been boosted by predator control and a captive breeding programme that released 184 juvenile kaki in the 2017/2018 breeding season.

Predator attacks meant just 67 of those birds survived.

Minister for Conservation Eugenie Sage said there were now 169 adult birds in the wild, 40 more than at this time last year.

“Kakī are a taonga species for Ngāi Tahu and are mostly only found in the Mackenzie Basin. Due to a variety of challenges including predators and habitat loss, they are the world’s rarest wading bird,” she said.

“Today’s announcement is a tribute to nearly four decades of protection, research, and intensive management. Kakī have had a remarkable turnaround since they were on the brink of extinction in 1981, when the adult population declined to a low of just 23 birds.”

Kakī/black stilt chicks.

Kakī/black stilt chicks. Photo: Supplied

She said there had been a huge effort by DOC and its partners, which included The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust, which was raising 34 birds in its Christchurch aviary.

There had also been a lot of work to trap predators around the stilt nesting areas.

“More kakī will survive in the future thanks to extensive trapping. Last year, conservation project Te Manahuna Aoraki expanded the existing trapping network to protect kakī across more than 60,000ha or 80 percent of their range,” Sage said.

Care of the birds had continued throughout level four lockdown, with strict hygiene protocols in place.

“Now we’re in alert level two, DOC and The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust will continue caring for the young kakī until they can be safely released into the Godley riverbed in August.

“Once released, the birds will benefit from an extensive trapping programme and lower predator numbers following the colder winter months,” Sage said.

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