• Nick Smith

The Minister of Conservation Nick Smith today visited the site of one of the world's rarest wading birds, the black stilt, releasing some of the last years offspring. He also inspected the Department of Conservation's predator control programme in response to the illegal introduction of the rabbit calicivirus.

"The Department has a long term investment in the recovery of the black stilt population. A century ago these unique birds had breeding sites in both the North and South islands, but by 1984 their population had collapsed to a mere 32 birds in the Mackenzie basin. The black stilt has made a major comeback over the last 4 years, following a substantial investment in their recovery. Despite the population growing to around 100 birds, the species still remains listed as endangered by the IUCN".

The Minister and Department of Conservation staff, today released 16 birds onto the Ohau river delta. These juvenile birds originated from eggs laid in the wild and captivity last spring. Some of the birds have been hand reared and others reared by their parents.

"In the past, birds released into the surrounding environment have had a high survival rate. These birds are not at high risk from predators. It is nesting birds and their newly hatched chicks that are most at risk from predator-prey switch arising from the illegal introduction of the rabbit calicivirus into this area. Furthermore these juvenile birds need to make the transition from captivity to the wild while still young. The decision to release the juvenile black stilts keeps the recovery programme on track".

The Minister of Conservation also visited black stilt nesting areas where predator control work has begun in response to potential threats from the indirect impacts of rabbit calicivirus.

"This is a precautionary approach to ensure that black stilts that are vulnerable to predators during nesting don't become prey to stoats or ferrets that maybe starved from their normal diet of rabbits. Over 2500 traps will be set in 15 areas in the Mackenzie basin covering nearly 21 thousand hectares of land. The monitoring and trapping work is currently being undertaken and will ensure the black stilt population continues its recovery".