Maritime NZ update on dotterel programme
Tuesday, 13 December 2011 10:30 a.m.
Two of the endangered New Zealand dotterels released into the wild after being captured to avoid being affected by oil from Rena are already breeding, the National Oiled Wildlife Response Team said today.
Monitoring of the birds has confirmed a pair released at Pukehina on 24 November after six weeks in captivity has a two-egg nest. Two other pairs - one from Pukehina and one from Maketū - are preparing to breed.
Dotterel expert Dr John Dowding said the birds had adapted to life outside the oiled wildlife facility more quickly than expected and the news was heartening to the wildlife team.
There are only around 1700 New Zealand dotterels in existence - with around 120 living in the central Bay of Plenty area. Sixty of these were captured and taken into care at the Te Maunga oiled wildlife facility after Rena ran aground. Of these, 54 have now been released back into the wild after their habitats were declared clear for their return.
Dr Dowding said pre-emptively capturing an endangered species to safeguard them from a known threat was a rarely tried technique, but it had been very successful.
"The National Oiled Wildlife Response Team has broken new ground by pre-emptively catching and housing dotterels," Dr Dowding said.
"No-one has ever had this many dotterels in captivity before - only two adult dotterels have ever been in captivity prior to this."
The birds have been individually housed in purpose-built aviaries and looked after by wildlife experts since their capture in the first weeks of the spill response.
Dr Dowding said of the 60 caught, four had died in captivity, of a fungal disease. Two more were still being treated, with the aim of getting them back into the wild as soon as possible.
The birds are more susceptible to the fungal infection when in captivity because they become stressed.
Dr Dowding said while the loss of four of the birds was disappointing, it was in line with natural mortality rates for this time of year.
"We know that on average we would have lost at least two out of these 60 to natural causes at this time of year.
"We're all saddened by the loss of three birds but in the bigger picture, we have done the right thing. At a population level we have been totally successful, so we need to keep the losses in perspective."
Dr Dowding said in contrast to the deaths of the three birds, the discovery yesterday that at least three pairs had already started the breeding process was hugely gratifying.
"We were very conscious when we caught the birds that it was the start of the breeding season. We had to balance the risk of disrupting the breeding process with the greater risk of oil from Rena," he said.
"Four of the birds we brought in were badly oiled and required a full wash - if left in the wild, they might have died. Some of the others had oil on their feet but we were able to prevent them being badly oiled.
"It's really gratifying to see these birds readjusting very quickly to life in the wild and just carrying on with business as usual. We now hope to see some chicks from these birds in the New Year."