Sonya Williams illuminates the importance of the Kokako in the historic cultural fabric of Ngati Rehua – and outlines how the restoration of Te Paparahi will allow for the kokako’s return.

Te Paparahi, is a large forested area which makes up the northern-most portion of Aotea. Te Paparahi is of significant importance to Ngati Rehua, it holds Taonga and Spiritual values that pertain to mauri (life force) and wairua (spiritual nature/forces/essences) of people, flora, fauna, land and water. Ngati Rehua – Ngatiwai maori land owners and the Mabeys whanau settlements are on the door-step of Te Paparahi; they have been the kaitiaki (caretakers) of the area for as long as they have lived there. Te Paparahi was the last stronghold for kokako on Aotea. Ngati Rehua and the Department of Conservation plan to work together to ecologically restore the area in preparation for the return of the kokako and their dawn chorus.
Photo: Adrain Lambrechts

Historically the kokako was distributed throughout much of Aotea but numbers dramatically declined over a few decades, until by the 1970s the birds were found only in Te Paparahi. Their demise was thought to be because of predation by feral cats and rats.

In the early eighties I remember my aunty telling me she had heard the kokako that morning on her way to her favourite fishing spot, only 30 years ago!

In 1982/3 the results of a survey carried out at Te Paparahi found only twelve kokako.

In 1985 my Uncle Maurice Wii saw three separate birds in the headwaters of the Ahuriri Stream and the next catchment south.

In 1993 the survey team found only two birds, and as a result of this survey, DOC recommended that both birds be caught and be transferred to the safe refuge of Hauturu.
DOC did talk to and involve Ngati Rehua; and in 1994 my sister Jade Williams, representing Ngati Rehua, assisted in the capture and transfer of the last known kokako from Te Paparahi with a team of professional bird catchers and DOC staff. Ngati Rehua kaumatua, in a ceremony at Rangiwhakaea, farewelled the bird.

Since then, Ngati Rehua have had many hui and discussions with DoC over the years regarding Te Paparahi. Part of the restoration of Te Paparahi included the removal of the feral goats and wild cattle that damaged the forest understories. In 1986-7 the goats were removed and in 2008 the cattle cull operation began. Ngati Rehua considered the cattle to be a resource (kai) that should not be wasted. Tangata whenua with DOC and contracted hunters had the opportunity to begin the cull with follow-ups to happen in the near future. The meat was given to tangata whenua and people on the island

The plan is that when all threats to kokako are removed or managed the offspring of the relocated Aotea kokako will be brought back to Te Paparahi. Planning for these events has to be thorough and does take time. Every body that has an interest needs to be part of the process. The planned re-introduction doesn’t simply represent a ‘wish list’ to Ngati Rehua – it is a work in progress, guided by the knowledge gained from previous conservation work and continuing research.