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Mokaihaha Kokako Recovery Project

In May 2015, the South Waikato branch of Forest & Bird were awarded an environmental initiatives fund (EIF) grant of $30,000 for a biodiversity restoration project at the Mokaihaha Ecological Area.

The Mokaihaha Ecological Area is a 2136 ha Department of Conservation (DOC) reserve on the Mamaku Plateau. It is the largest remaining block of the extensive native forest that once covered the plateau. The area contains trails once used by Maori travelling between Rotorua and Hamilton. Kokako and short-tailed bats are present along with over 110 flora species including some spectacularly large podocarps. However, competing priorities have limited the level of active management of this site by DOC and pest control over the last five years has been limited to recreational hunting and independent possum trapping.

The kokako population is nationally significant (the fifth most important population in the country) and occupies an area of about 850 hectares on the western side of Mokaihaha. The kokako is one of NZ’s most striking birds. It is dark slate-grey, and significantly larger than the tui, with a beautiful haunting call. DOC have made a commitment to fund an aerial pest control operation over the entire Mokaihaha Ecological area every three years. The first operation took place in August 2015. While this effectively knocks back the possums and rats, it is only once every three years. Intensive, ground-based pest control in the kokako area in the off-years will achieve greater kokako population growth rather than just halting the decline.

The EIF grant is helping to fund the costs of the project coordinator (Katherine Hay, ex-manager of the Waikato Environment Centre) as well as contractor time and bait costs over the 850ha kokako area. The project has received complementary funding from South Waikato District Council, Hancock Forest Management, Waikato Catchment Ecological Enhancement Trust and Forest & Bird Waikato Branch. Raukawa Charitable Trust have been central to the project planning.

Prior to the aerial operation in August, a kokako census was conducted (using DOC staff and volunteers) and results indicated a larger population than originally thought – possibly up to 100 birds. Track cutting has been completed and contractors have been working to install bait stations. Community interest in the project has been substantial.

The overall aim of this project is to establish Mokaihaha as a nationally recognised nature destination and a key biodiversity hub for the district.