A significant increase in predator trapping is giving 130 young kakī/black stilt released in the Mackenzie Basin this week their best-ever chance of survival.

Thousands of new predator traps have been recently installed in the Godley Cass and Macaulay river systems as part of conservation project, Te Manahuna Aoraki. There is now renewed hope that kakī, the world’s rarest wading bird, will one day be able to thrive without human intervention.

Yesterday, 45 juvenile kakī were released at Mt Gerald Station, in the Godley and Cass river systems. Another 19 birds will join them this afternoon, while a further 66 were released into the Tasman Valley earlier in the week.

Department of Conservation (DOC) Senior Biodiversity Ranger Dean Nelson says until recently the young waders have been released in the Godley and lower Cass Valleys with only very limited trapping to protect them from predators like stoats, ferrets and feral cats.

“We’re delighted to be able to release 64 birds here, safe in the knowledge the increased trapping system will help to keep most predators at bay.

“Previously fewer than 30% of the young birds released in the Godley and lower Cass valleys were surviving to become adults whereas in areas with significant trapping like the Tasman valley, the survival rate is 50%,” he says.

Chair of Te Manahuna Aoraki Dr Jan Wright says DOC and other organisations have done a fantastic job of bringing kakī back from the brink of extinction.

“Over the last six months Te Manahuna Aoraki have laid more than two thousand new predator traps, so 80% of the current kakī range is now protected.”

Te Manahuna Aoraki has more than doubled DOC’s existing trapping network area, from 26,000ha in the Tasman valley, to more than 60,000ha across the kakī range.

The birds have been hatched and reared for release by DOC and The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust. The juvenile kakī are released into the wild at nine months old, and reach adulthood just over 12 months later.

“I’m told kakī start squabbling like teenagers at about nine months so it’s the right time to release them into the wild, and it is wonderful to know these birds will have their best chance yet to survive through to adulthood,” says Jan Wright.

“The other threatened birds that breed in these braided rivers like wrybill/ngutu pare, black-fronted tern/tarapirohe, banded dotterel/tūturiwhatu and black-billed gull/tarāpuka will also greatly benefit from the extended trapping network,” she says.

Kakī are only found in the braided rivers and wetlands of the upper Waitaki and Mackenzie basins, although they can occasionally be seen in other parts of the country. It is one of New Zealand’s most threatened birds.

The Department of Conservation has intensively managed the highly threatened birds since 1981, when their population declined to a low of just 23. There are now 129 adult kakī living in the wild.