Six kea recovered from the Matukituki Valley last month are likely to have died from 1080 poisoning, findings from Massey University shows.
The birds were among 12 kea monitored by the Kea Conservation Trust with six birds confirmed alive since the Department of Conservation (DOC) aerial 1080 predator control operation on 11 February.
“In light of this incident, we will be investing more to explore potential additional measures that DOC can take to reduce the risk to kea in future 1080 predator control operations,” said DOC threats director Amber Bill.
This could include the use of non-toxic aversion bate containing the bird repellent anthraquinone trialled in South Westland last year. However, the major challenge was that the use of the repellant in cereal baits could also cause predators to avoid baits.
Bill said it’s regretful to lose any kea to 1080 but overall, aerial predator control is proven to benefit kea populations.
Recent rodent monitoring results from the Matukituki show rats have been reduced from damaging levels (present in 47 per cent of tracking tunnels) to being undetectable (0 per cent of tracking tunnels), following the 1080 operation. Stoat monitoring is underway.
“It’s upsetting and disappointing to lose six kea but we are confident with effective control of rats and stoats we will significantly boost nesting success and the number of young birds entering the population,” Bill said.
“DOC’s extensive research of kea through aerial 1080 operations show the risk of 1080 to kea in remote areas is very low but increases markedly with birds that have learnt to scrounge for human food.”
She said DOC was concerned the tracked kea may have learnt to eat human food around the tramping huts, making them more likely to try 1080 cereal bait.
“We are constantly working to improve our risk mitigation standards for kea, which are informed by our ongoing research programme,” Bill said.
DOC is also scoping social science research to inform a behaviour-change campaign to discourage people from feeding kea and prevent kea from learning to scrounge.
“Kea are super smart and present unique conservation challenges. We need to continue to learn and assess all options to protect this national taonga from predators and other threats,” Bill said.