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Regional | Bay of Plenty

Ngāti Makino and DOC report ‘huge growth’ in kōkako population in Rotoehu Forest

Kōkako numbers have almost doubled at Rotoehu Forest in the Bay of Plenty through the joint efforts of Ngāti Makino and the Department of Conservation.

The first survey of the forest between Rotorua, Whakatāne and Te Puke in four years has revealed “huge growth” in the population of the secretive forest birds.

The count identified 289 pairs of kōkako – an 89% increase on the 157 pairs in 2019 - making Rotoehu Forest home to Aotearoa’s second-largest mainland population of the ancient wattlebird.

DOC senior ranger Rebecca Newland said the result is “significant” for the local kōkako population but also “for the future of the species”.

Predator control through bait stations and aerial 1080 drops is the primary reason the bird’s numbers have been “rapidly expanding”, she said.

“The biggest threat to kōkako and many other native species is being killed by introduced predators including rats, stoats and possums.

“By regularly controlling these threats with a range of tools, native species including plants and insects have a much greater chance of survival. This creates the diversity ecosystems need to thrive.”

Ngāti Makino iwi authority is working alongside DOC to help protect kōkako and other native species in the forest.

The authority’s environmental manager, John Rapana, said kōkako are a taonga for the local iwi and hold a special place in the stories and traditional knowledge of the area.

“Preserving our native kōkako species is deeply rooted in our cultural and spiritual connection to the land and its environment, he said.

“Over the centuries, observation of our kōkako and other manu taonga species resulted in an accumulation of local knowledge about their behaviour, habitat, and seasonal patterns that were observed, contextualised, and appropriated into our cultural stories and practises.”

Rapana said Ngāti Makino has a responsibility to safeguard these taonga and is focused on growing their skill sets to do so.

“From an iwi perspective, we are obligated to maintain our poutiaki role with our environment and its inhabitants. We must continue to develop multiple skill sets for our people to be confident and competent to undertake specialised roles to support our manu taonga and its environment.”

The survey was done across 19 days in April by a team of seven specialists with support from volunteers who covered 2,450 hectares of conservation land.