A ‘boot camp’ for whio was opened at the Tongariro National Trout Centre near Turangi by the Minister of Conservation today.
The release of the first whio ducklings into the new whio aviary marked a major step forward in the battle to save the endangered whio, or blue duck.
The Minister Hon Maggie Barry together with Genesis Energy CEO Albert Brantley released the first ducklings into the new hardening facility along with iwi representatives, local and visiting children.
“This opening signals a significant milestone in securing a bright future for this iconic species, and is another successful example of the Department of Conservation’s relationship with Genesis Energy” said Minister Barry.
“This ‘boot camp’ is the first dedicated facility on the North Island and supports whio’s captive breeding programme by providing a safe environment for captive reared ducklings,” says Ms Barry.
Genesis Energy’s Chief Executive Albert Brantley said, “The Whio Forever programme is the embodiment of the long-running and fruitful relationship between Genesis Energy and the Department of Conservation. This new facility will not only add another dimension to the Tongariro National Trout Centre, it will also allow the “Taupō for Tomorrow” education programme to flourish further.”
It is the first North Island whio hardening facility, and will support the whio captive breeding programme by providing a safe environment for captive reared ducklings to learn the skills needed to swim and feed in a fast white water environment before they are released into the wild.
Until today the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust in Christchurch was the only whio hardening facility in New Zealand.
“The opening of this facility is a huge asset and means that whio from the North Island captive breeders don’t have to be transferred to South Island for hardening, then transferred north again for release,” said DOC National Whio Recovery Group Leader Andrew Glaser.
“Today marks a major milestone in the battle to secure and recover our whio population. It’s whiotastic.”
The whio ducklings released today came from the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust’s first two captive clutches for the season, and this season is shaping up to be a bumper for whio ducklings.
Numbers of ducklings already hatched in wild around the country are being reported as significant, and in the Tongariro Forest security site a census last week reported more than 50 whio ducklings double the best season so far.
“The Battle for our Birds operations in the south island have already made an impact on our whio sites with increases in ducklings reported throughout the country. The 1080 operations in the north island have also resulted in significant increases in the numbers of wild ducklings hatched so far,” said Andrew.
Genesis Energy and the Department of Conservation have partnered together in a five year programme to secure the future of this unique vulnerable native bird.
Operating under the name of Whio Forever this partnership is fast tracking implementation of the national Whio Recovery Plan to protect whio and increase public awareness.
The support of Genesis Energy is enabling DOC to double the number of fully secure whio breeding sites throughout the country, boost pest control efforts and enhance productivity and survival for these rare native ducks.
The initial goal was to secure 400 pairs of whio at eight national security sites by 2019. Since 2011 the number of protected pairs has increased from 117 to 332, and the target has now been raised by another 100 pairs to 500 pairs by 2019.
The ‘boot camp’ aviary has been funded by DOC, Genesis Energy and the Central North Island Blue Duck Charitable Trust.
The project involved the conversion of an old water raceway at the trout centre. It will provide a safe environment for young whio to develop their white water skills prior to release into the wild. The construction used local engineers and contractors with many hours pro-bono. Department of Corrections inmate labour was also valuable in completing the construction, providing painters and labourers to carry the tonnes of rocks and sand involved.