DoC culls pukeko to save
By ANNE BESTON environment reporter
The Government's conservation agency has shot more than 1700
partly-protected pukeko over the past two years in an effort
to save a critically endangered duck.
The culling of 1756 pukeko at Okiwi Basin, Great Barrier
Island, was done after an alarming drop in Brown Teal numbers.
The ducks had dwindled from more than 900 in the 1980s to
just 210 by 2000.
Research has shown pukeko are a major predator of ducklings.
Great Barrier Island Department of Conservation officer Jim
Flack said the cull had only halved their numbers at Okiwi.
"Controlling one native species for the benefit of another
is something no one enjoys," he said. "It's a hard
decision but it is the only way to get pukeko down to a safe
"When we've done that, we'll stop."
Mr Flack said pukeko were aggressive and territorial. Residents
on the Hauraki Gulf island had seen one rip the head off a
Brown Teal duckling.
Since culling began in June 2000, the Brown Teal population
had stabilised, Mr Flack said, and the last flock count was
about 300 birds.
Department staff had also trapped and killed 286 feral cats
at the 800ha Okiwi Basin.
"That is just a staggering number in a relatively small
area," Mr Flack said. "With no possums or stoats,
the cat is on a great wicket out here.
"They are a super-predator because they don't compete
with any other predator for food."
The trapping and killing of cats would continue to prevent
reinvasion, he said.
Brown teal are sometimes referred to as New Zealand's "rubber
ducky" because of their resemblance to the bathroom toy.
They were once spread over mainland New Zealand but are now
restricted to Great Barrier and a small population in Northland.
The pukeko is not the first native to be culled by the department.
DoC was criticised by Act Party MP Ken Shirley this year
when it was revealed 400 weka on the Chatham Islands were
being killed by DoC staff to protect the critically endangered
taiko, one of the world's rarest seabirds.
Pukeko are protected nationally, but can be shot for sport
during the shooting season.
The distinctive indigo-blue birds with a constantly-flicking
white tail are renowned for their cheekiness.
Unlike Brown Teal, they are also found in parts of Africa,
Asia and Australia.