Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication. 


Whio numbers in the Oparara Whio Security Site, north of Westport on the West Coast of the South Island will be supercharged with a captive breeding programme starting this year.

Date:  25 October 2018

This week, nine eggs have been collected from wild nests and ducklings will be hatched from the eggs  raised in captivity at The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust in Christchurch.

These whio will be encouraged to pair up to be kept in captivity as breeding pairs. Their resulting ducklings will be raised and released back into the Oparara and surrounding area.

Robert Dickson, Operations Manager in the Kawatiri/Buller Area says once captive pairs are established they can be very productive.

Each whio pair lays between three and eight eggs and often will lay more than one clutch, this creates fast growth for whio populations.

“The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust (ICWT), provide fantastic support for our whio populations in the South Island. ICWT hatch and raise the ducklings and will hold the Oparara breeding pairs. Without the work they do and facilities they provide, we would not be able to use this technique.”

The Oparara Whio Security Site receives funding from the Whio Forever programme; a joint partnership between Genesis and DOC. Genesis’ Environmental Coordinator Cam Speedy, who works with the DOC whio technical team, says these sort of results are highly gratifying.

“We are really seeing the benefits of the predator control work in this area and harnessing this with the captive breeding programme is going to make a real difference.”

Predator control in the Oparara helps to maintain the low numbers of predators that whio need to breed and thrive. Stoats are the main threat to whio, stealing eggs out of nests, attacking nesting females and ducklings.

Background information

The Oparara Security Site was established in 2002 with a goal to protect 50 pairs and has grown to include 95 km of traplines, which target stoats, the main predators of whio ducklings and nesting female ducks. The programme receives funding from Genesis who support nationwide efforts to secure and grow whio populations on New Zealand rivers through a partnership with DOC called Whio Forever.

The 2017-18 season was the best season yet for the whio on the Oparara. A record number of 55 ducklings hatched. These young birds will help grow the population of breeding pairs in the area, which currently number 46.

More about whio

The whio is a threatened species of native duck that is only found in New Zealand’s fast flowing waters. Featured on New Zealand’s $10 note and with an estimated nationwide population of less than 3000 birds, whio are rarer than kiwi.

Whio are adapted to live on fast-flowing rivers so finding whio means you will also find fresh, fast-flowing water with a good supply of plants and underwater insects.

This makes whio important indicators of ecosystem health – they only exist where there is quality fresh water and an abundance of life.

The conservation issue

The whio are predated by stoats, ferrets and cats with the largest impact during nesting time when eggs, young and females are vulnerable, and also when females are in moult and can’t fly.

Extensive trapping can manage these predators and work in key whio habitats by DOC and Genesis on the Whio Forever Project has already seen an increase in whio numbers.

Whio cannot be moved to predator-free islands like other species because of their reliance on fast-flowing rivers.

Pairs occupy approximately 1 km of water – so they need a lot of river to sustain a large population and they fiercely defend their territories, which makes it difficult to put them with other ducks in captivity.

They are susceptible to flood events which, destroy nests, fragment broods and wash away their valued food source.

Whio Forever

Genesis has a strong historic association with whio through the Tongariro Power Scheme and in 2010 this association grew through the establishment of Whio Awareness Month (March). The dates of this month have now shifted to better reflect the whio release season of Mid March to Mid April.

Today, Genesis and DOC continue their partnership through The Whio Forever Project, which aims to secure the future of whio in the wild and ensure New Zealanders understand and value whio in our rivers.

The support of Genesis and the work of DOC has enabled the Whio Recovery Plan to be implemented.


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