‘Extinct’ New Zealand bird may still be alive

By AAP with AG staff 29 November 2013
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Sightings of the orange-wattled South Island kokako have been accepted as genuine says NZ conservation body.

NINE POSSIBLE SIGHTINGS since 1990 have convinced some New Zealand authorities there’s a chance the South Island kokako (Callaeas cinereus) may not be extinct.

This orange-wattled kokako – a separate species from the endangered blue-wattled North Island kokako (Callaeas wilsoni) – was declared extinct in 2007 as there had been no accepted sightings since 1967.

Series of sightings

These kokakos are two of five species of endemic wattlebirds, the other members of which are two living saddlebacks and the extinct huia bird.

But an apparent sighting made by Len Turner and Peter Rudolf near the West Coast town of Reefton in 2007 has now been accepted by the New Zealand Ornithological Society’s records appraisal committee.

That, along with other reported sightings, has convinced an expert panel managing New Zealand’s Threat Classification System (NZTCS) to change the bird’s status from extinct to “data deficient”, according to conservation group Forest & Bird.

Return of the South Island kokako

The Reefton sighting was one of 11 possible sightings submitted to the Ornithological Society.

Two others were considered sightings of a tame North Island kokako, while the others, from the Marlborough Sounds, northwest Nelson, the West Coast and the Catlins in south Otago, were considered “possible” or “probable” sightings.

Forest & Bird has funded a project by one of its members, Alec Milne, to find out if the kokako still exists and its advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell says it would be fantastic if the project’s work confirmed the species was still alive.

“We can’t say that the South Island kokako is still alive. But this is the best sign yet that it is,” Kevin says, adding that the biggest threat to the birds would be rats, stoats and possums. He has called for more pest control work in the South Island.