Endangered kōkako returning to forest
10 Jul 2009
History will be repeating itself when world renowned botanist David Bellamy and a flock of endangered kōkako songbirds return to the New Zealand bush in September to commemorate an environmental milestone.
Professor Bellamy and the birds will be the stars of Whirinaki25, a weekend of events (4 - 6 September) marking 25 years since the end of one of New Zealand’s great conservation campaigns.
Bellamy is the key note speaker for a gala dinner celebrating the protection of Whirinaki Forest Park’s precious native trees from forestry.
The birds are the subject of the first translocation into Whirinaki of North Island kōkako / blue-wattled crow, a rare native bird that once inhabited the forest in the rural hinterlands of New Zealand’s central North Island.
Native timber milling was stopped in Whirinaki forest 25 years ago.
In the time leading up to that, a sometimes bitter conflict attracted international media attention, and supporters like the famous British tree-hugger.
At the heart of the issue were the giant podocarp trees - native New Zealand rimu, totara, matai, miro and kahikatea that are some of the last remnants of the ancient continent of Gondwanaland.
The issue opposed the ‘greenies’ who wanted to protect the trees, and those who wanted to continue the selective logging, the area’s main economic activity.
David Bellamy - who first coined the term ‘dinosaur forest’, and applied it to the multi million-year-old Whirinaki forest - describes it as one of his favourite places on earth.
Back in 1984, Bellamy argued for total protection of Whirinaki, turning it into an eco-tourism destination that could provide a sustainable future for the local forestry communities.
Bellamy’s vision helped sway opinion to ensure New Zealand’s prime tract of lowland podocarps was conserved for future generations.
Whirinaki25 events will include a powhiri - traditional Māori welcome ceremony - for the kōkako and human visitors, a dawn chorus walk, a bioblitz (specimen collection), opening of a new mountainbike and walking track, and a gala dinner featuring indigenous New Zealand cuisine.
A church service will provide a rare opportunity for outsiders to experience a Ringatu service at the Eripitana meeting house. The historic building was gifted to local iwi (tribe) by the famous 19th century prophet and founder of the Ringatu faith, Te Kooti Rikirangi.
Committee member Steve Brightwell says the weekend is about celebrating achievements, and looking forward to what is still to be realised.
"As part of the celebrations, it's a healthy thing that there's an acknowledgement of the past - but at the end of the day it cannot be changed and we have to look to the future," Brightwell said.
"That's where we are certain the Whirinaki25 celebrations will come into focus - allowing all of us who love the Whirinaki to agree it is a very special and ancient place which can be both sustained by, and offer sustainable employment to, the surrounding communities for whom it has always been precious."
Background: Whirinaki Forest
- Whirinaki forest is a huge expanse of diverse habitat, home to native bats and bird life such as kaka, kiwi, kereru, tui, bellbird, waxeye, long-tailed cuckoo, blue duck, and parakeet.
- Still largely unexplored, New Zealand’s ‘dinosaur forest’ has recently revealed a new species: the Whirinaki skink is a lizard known only from a single piece of video footage.
- While the giant trees of Whirinaki are protected for their international significance, their canopy also provides shelter for a range of broadleaf and hardwood plants such as tawa and kamahi, which form a colourful and fragrant under-canopy.
- Whirinaki forest is a major destination on the Te Urewera Rainforest Route - a touring route that includes Lake Waikaremoana.
- Several local guiding companies offer walking experiences in Whirinaki forest.
Background: North Island kōkako
- Kōkako belong to the endemic New Zealand wattlebird (Callaeidae) family, which includes North and South Island saddleback and the extinct huia.
- The kōkako is the only member of its family still surviving on the mainland.
- The dark bluish-grey bird has a long tail, short wings, and a pair of large bright blue, fleshy wattles.
- Not particularly good at flying, the kōkako prefers to use its powerful legs to leap and run through the forest.
- The South Island kōkako has been declared officially extinct.
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