One of world's rarest birds flourishing after DOC work

  • Chris Carter

The Department of Conservation has discovered one of the world rarest birds, the Campbell Island snipe, is recolonising its former home in the remote Southern Ocean at an astonishing rate, Conservation Minister Chris Carter announced today.

"The recovery of the Campbell island snipe is a fantastic conservation success, and a remarkable story of what can be achieved when we invest in saving New Zealand's native species," Mr Carter said.

"The existence of a Campbell Island snipe was only discovered in 1997, when a tiny population was found living on Jacquemart Island, an inhospitable rock stack neighbouring Campbell Island, deep in the Southern Ocean.

"Archaeological work established that the snipe used to live on Campbell Island, but was driven out of its home by the introduction of rats, which most likely occurred when a ship wrecked near the island in 1829," Mr Carter said.

"In 2001, the Department of Conservation fought back, and in the largest rat eradication ever attempted in the world, successfully made Campbell Island pest-free, using new funding from the government.

"Now, we are delighted to announce that the snipe has returned home, and in force," Mr Carter said.

"A DOC survey team inspecting the island this summer has found a new snipe population, estimated to be about 30 birds, living on Campbell, a far larger population than ever expected.

"The population was sufficiently large to enable the DOC team to collect genetic samples from 17 birds. This means scientists may finally be in a position to formally classify the subspecies, making it the first new bird named for over a century," Mr Carter said.

"This is very exciting news for any one interested in New Zealand's biodiversity, particularly when you consider the Campbell Island snipe has probably been trying to recolonise its home for nearly two hundred of years but couldn't because of rats.

"I want to offer my congratulations to all the DOC staff involved in the Campbell Island project. It demonstrates what can be achieved by investment, commitment and skill," Mr Carter said.

The Campbell Island snipe is one of several species of New Zealand snipe whose nightly aerial displays are responsible for noises attributed in Maori tradition to the hakawai or hokioi, a mythical night bird of ill portent.

Campbell Island snipe chronology:
·Campbell Island (11,330 hectares) was discovered in 1810. The first shipwreck occurred in 1829, which is possibly when rats arrived.

·The first naturalists landed on Campbell Island in 1840 as members of Sir James Clark Ross’s Erebus and Terror expedition. They found no land birds.

·In 1997 a teal survey team on Jacquemart Island, a 19 hectares rock stack 1 kilometre south of Campbell Island, caught a snipe. Their bird dog indicated the presence of snipe in 10 other places on the island. The islet is accessible only by helicopter, being surrounded on all sides by sheer cliffs. This is the southernmost part of New Zealand.

·Later discoveries of birds on outlying islands, and bones on main Campbell Island reveal that a pipit, teal, snipe and parakeet peculiar to Campbell Island had become extinct on the main island by 1840.

·Rats were eradicated from Campbell Island in 2001, and in 2003 the team searching for presence of rats found possible snipe footprints near Monument Harbour, the closest point on Campbell Island to Jacquemart Island. It was suspected that at least one snipe had flown across.

·On 10 March 2005 two snipe were sighted and one caught at Six Foot Lake, at the head of Monument Harbour.

·New Zealand’s snipe species include Chatham Island, Antipodes, Snares, Auckland Island and the yet to be described Campbell Island snipe. The Stewart Island, North Island, Norfolk Island and Fiji snipes are extinct and are known only from historical skins or bone remains.

·The eradication of Norway rates from Campbell Island was the largest rodent eradication operation to ever be attempted in the world.