Milestone reached in sanctuary's efforts to restore Kākā population

By Ani-Oriwia Adds

Zealandia has just banded its 800th Kākā, reaching yet another milestone in the sanctuary's efforts to restore Wellington's native wildlife.  The Kākā is still in its nest box being cared for by its mother but will soon be out learning to fly and may someday be spotted beyond the Zealandia fence line.

The breeding programme started with the introduction of six birds into the sanctuary in 2002.  Kākā had been effectively extinct in Wellington for about 100 years.  

"A total of fourteen captive-bred Kākā were transferred to Zelandia between 2002 and 2007, and since then they have become one of our biggest success stories," said Zealandia's Conservation Manager, Dr. Danielle Shanahan.

The programme has been so successful that together with the greater Wellington region, they have now seen the Kākā establishing breeding pairs outside of Zealandia’s fence.  The combination of colored leg bands allows individual birds to be identified even at a distance. 

"The regular sightings of a Zealandia-banded Kākā within and far beyond our fenceline have become a symbol of pride and hope for Wellingtonians, showing how we can make a real change to the Wellington region by bringing home our native wildlife," says Dr. Shanahan.

"The Kākā population has grown nicely and we are working closely with partners like Wellington City Council, the Greater Wellington Regional Council and the community to make sure the birds remain healthy and safe outside the sanctuary fence."

The original reason for banding was to monitor their breeding behaviour but a new focus is the study of the bird's intelligence.

As part of Zealandia's partnership with Victoria University, researchers led by Dr. Rachael Shaw have been studying how the brids tackle problem-solving, how they learn and remember, and how much they can learn from each other.

"Parrots have been a long been favourite subject for animal cognition researchers but most studies have been on captive birds,"  said Volunteer Kākā bander Bill Beale, who banded "W-YG", Zealandia's 800th Kākā.

"What is special about Zealandia's kaka population is the free and natural environment they live in, and its close proximity to the city."