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51 black stilt, the world’s rarest wading bird, are being released at Mount Gerald station in the Mackenzie basin today.

Conservation Minister Maggie Barry says the birds will add to the 60 released into the Tasman valley earlier this month, significantly boosting the wild population. 

“DOC works really hard on black stilt (kakī) recovery, controlling predators in their braided river habitats and hatching and rearing chicks in aviaries before releasing them into the wild. This programme has helped build numbers in the wild from a low of 23 to more than 106 adult birds today,” Ms Barry says.

“The release is a textbook example of collaboration between DOC, the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust and a private landowner for the benefit of this extremely rare bird.”

“DOC’s been working with Mount Gerald Station over the last two years to use the area’s highly-suitable habitat for the release. The station owner has been hugely supportive, letting DOC trap predators on station land, allowing daily access to the release site, and providing accommodation for onsite feeding and monitoring staff.”

“The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust bred all the birds released today at its chick-rearing facilities in Christchurch,” Ms Barry says.  

Additional support for the birds has recently come from Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) which is funding a replacement aviary for one destroyed in a snow storm in 2015, in time for this year’s breeding season. 

Almost all the Black stilt’s wild population is restricted to the South Island’s Mackenzie basin.

“They are so vulnerable to being killed by feral cats, stoats and ferrets that only about 30% of captive-reared young birds survive to breeding age in the wild so their only viable long-term future is to make their habitat predator free and clear from invasive weeds,”  Ms Barry says.

“The survival rate has increased to 49% in the past three years since DOC stepped up its predator control work in the Tasman valley.”  

“While it’s not yet feasible to control predators over the entire area where black stilt range, DOC is exploring a wider partnership opportunity to introduce landscape-scale predator control in the Mackenzie.”  Ms Barry says.

“This initiative would directly contribute towards New Zealand’s goal of becoming predator-free by 2050 and would completely change the future for black stilt (kakī) and other at-risk species in the area.”

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