Kokako Hui
by Kate Waterhouse & Liz Westbrooke

A group of about 50 people gathered at Motairehe marae, to explore and discuss what is needed to Bring Back Kokako to Great Barrier Island. The day began with a Powhiri with Nick Turoa, DoC’s iwi liaison for GBI/Warkworth leading and speaking on behalf of the manuhiri and Rolien Elliot responding to the karanga. Rolien was part of the party that trapped the last kokako to leave Great Barrier in November 1994.

Speakers included Will Scarlett and Rolien who were involved in the removal of the last two male birds, Paparahi and Papaiti, from near Rangiwhakaea or Wreck Bay. Rolien described using tapes of Kokako song to attract the last bird into a mist net, which had many in the audience in tears. Will Scarlett spoke about waiting for 5 days for the weather to clear so a boat skippered by Don Woodcock could collect the birds. Sonia Williams later movingly recalled her sister Jade’s presence on the boat and at the farewell given the birds by Arthur Toki.

Mike Lee, Gulf Island Council
Representative spoke at the hui.

Will warned of the damage flocks of kokako can do to a vegetable garden based on his time on Little Barrier, and of their sociability and curiosity even when being translocated. Kokako live for 20 years so it is possible the two Barrier birds are still alive and have bred on Little Barrier but the Hauturu population is flourishing but unmanaged. Although DNA was taken and they are banded, finding them would be very difficult.

Rodney Ngawaka spoke about Ngati Rehua Trust Board and their stance which centres on returning the birds to Te Paparahi. He acknowledged the challenges but felt that the answers would come from talking through the issues now on the table. The stepping stones had been laid out by Don and they now need to take the lead.

Hazel Speed of the Kokako Recovery Group who manage Kokako nationally, gave us an overview of kokako habits and its decline – mainly due to rats and other predators, with females and chicks/eggs taken on the nest at night, resulting in too many males in many small populations, which then collapse. She also provided some indicative costs for relocation and management of pest free areas based Waitakere Ranges’ Ark in the Park project. There were many questions and discussion of possible locations on Aotea. A viable Kokako population requires about 1000ha of good forest habitat with ship rat densities down to between 1–5%.

Mike Lee suggested the best source of expertise in this area was already on the island at Windy Hill and Glenfern sanctuaries. He also asked us to consider the benefits to other species especially black petrel, when choosing a location. Mike observed that it is humans that caused the demise of the Kokako on the Barrier and it is humans who can bring them back – possible if we are able to complete the habitat repair and unite the community behind the project.

From this gathering a working group has been formed to assess the pros and cons of possible locations on Aotea, evaluate methods and agree and take action. If you would like to be part of this group please contact Liz Westbrooke or TBC (Ngati Rehua).