Manaia’s wayward weka rehomed, but mystery remains
IntroductionThe curious story of Manaia’s wayward weka is wrapping up as the birds fly to a new home at a South Island wildlife reserve.
Date: 15 September 2023
The two weka, thought to be illegally released in the South Taranaki township, flew via Air New Zealand from New Plymouth to Christchurch this morning where they were welcomed to Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. Representatives from Ngāruahine Iwi supported a karakia to acknowledge their departure from Taranaki.
In December 2022, Manaia local Peter Andreoli caught a weka in the small town. A second weka was caught by Jenny and Guy Oakley in April, 3 km from the township.
Although weka are relatively common in the South Island, they’ve not been sighted in Taranaki for decades. DOC rangers were concerned the birds had been illegally released, potentially harming local native wildlife.
DOC’s investigations into how the birds got to Manaia are ongoing.
Both birds were cared for off-display by staff at New Plymouth District Council’s Brooklands Zoo while tests were undertaken, and a decision made on where they would be rehomed.
DNA testing by staff at Massey University showed the birds likely came from the upper South Island.
Releasing them into the wild wasn’t an option says Taranaki DOC Community Ranger Gabriel Field.
“Since a precise location for the bird's origins could not be determined, we did not want to risk transmission of disease to our existing wild populations, or the potential muddling of weka genes that would not have mixed naturally.”
Thankfully the birds were offered a permanent home at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in Christchurch.
“Being able to rehome them at Willowbank, and working with conservation partners to achieve that, is a good outcome and brings a nice end to what has been a puzzling little story,” says Gabriel.
“We appreciate all the care taken in looking after the weka by the team at Brooklands Zoo and want to also thank Willowbank Wildlife Reserve for offering them a permanent home.”
Brooklands Zoo Team Lead Eve Cozzi says the keepers enjoy rehabilitating native wildlife but they found that looking after the two weka was a particularly special experience.
“They’re a new species for us and they’re charismatic birds. Both have very different personalities – one is very confident around humans and they each have their own food preferences, love a good bath and investigating (tearing apart) bird-friendly enrichment items.
“We will miss their distinctive and beautiful calls, but we’re really pleased they’re going to another great facility to be with other weka,” says Eve.
Willowbank Community and Conservation Engagement Manager Shaun Horan says: “Willowbank is delighted to be able to welcome these cheeky native icons back to the mainland of Te Waipounamu, where they will be on display for the public to see”.
“Weka have been a ‘larger than life’ member of the Willowbank family for many years and we are excited to be able to provide a home for these birds here at the reserve.”
Air New Zealand is a national partner with DOC for conservation and has supported DOC to fly more than 4200 threatened species and Conservation Dogs since 2012.
Records show weka were in Taranaki in 1918 but reported to be gone from the region by 1938. An attempt at reintroducing weka to Mt Taranaki in the 1970s was deemed unsuccessful, with one weka turning up at Port Taranaki and no other confirmed sightings. Unconfirmed sightings of weka were reported on the south side of Mt Taranaki in the early 2000s.
Weka can be disruptive to some fragile or recovering native ecosystems. The birds can have predatory impacts on other fauna, especially burrow-nesting seabirds, ground nesting birds, reptiles, and large invertebrates. If weka were to get on Taranaki Maunga they pose a real risk to the native wildlife while the ecosystems and populations are still in such a recovery phase.
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