Ten years after Kākāpō were reintroduced to Hauturu-o-Toi/Little Barrier Island, they are being relocated back to the Southern islands. This update from Kākāpō Recovery explains the challenges and learnings of this trail to find new habitat for kākāpō.

Kākāpō were first translocated to Hauturu-o-toi (Little Barrier Island) in 1982. Despite the absence of known breeding triggers, several breeding attempts did occur in the 1990’s when the birds were being supplementary fed.  The rough terrain of Hauturu makes it logistically challenging to manage any kākāpō population closely, especially one requiring sup-feeding. By 1999 they were all returned to the Southern Islands to consolidate the breeding population.  

Kākāpō were reintroduced* to Hauturu-o-Toi /Little Barrier Island in 2012, as part of a trial to see whether they can breed there without support.

 More than 10 years on, data tells us that the site is safe for kākāpō, but unlikely to be productive without the provision of supplementary food. Therefore, it was concluded that the seven females and three males on the island will be more productive back on the Southern breeding sites. 

The transfer in progress. Transfer team member Jasmine Rabaud of Auckland Zoo enroute to the boat. Photo by Deirdre Vercoe, DOC.

Heather, Lisa, Tiaka and Hananui made the journey back South in July 2023. This transfer was undertaken in partnership with Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Manuhiri Settlement Trust. Members from both iwi accompanied the four birds to an island in Fiordland where they are currently completing a six-week quarantine for disease and health screening purposes. Once cleared, they joined the rest of the population on the Southern breeding islands. The remaining six kākāpō on Hauturu-o-Toi /Little Barrier Island will make the same journey next year. 

Breeding continues to go well on the Southern Islands when the rimu trees mast every 2-4 years (this is the known trigger for breeding on Southern Islands). As the population grows, finding new, suitable habitat is one of our most pressing challenges. As we trial new locations, we hope to discover more breeding triggers. 

The plant thought to be the most likely to stimulate breeding on Hauturu was kauri, but throughout the trial it did not produce a heavy crop of seeds as we had seen it do in the past. Even if it did, a mast sufficient to stimulate breeding may not necessarily sustain chick rearing, and that’s when supplementary food is required. 

Kākāpō could one day return to Hauturu as a holding population but for now, these birds hold genetics that will be valuable on the Southern islands during the next breeding seasons.

The trial provided valuable data and insights that will help Kākāpō Recovery continue to best manage kākāpō conservation for decades to come.

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* Kākāpō were present on the island from the 1980s-1999, and reintroduced or translocated again, in 2012.



Feature photo / Jake Osborne for DOC


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