What's On at Zealandia


ZEALANDIA Mātauranga Māori Summer Scholarship
ZEALANDIA Ecosanctuary

ZEALANDIA Mātauranga Māori Summer Scholarship

Mātauranga Māori is Māori knowledge systems, and an area of increasingly wider interest as it works to complement Western science systems.  The ZEALANDIA Mātauranga Māori Summer Scholarship programme began in the summer of 2019/2020 to provide the sanctuary a mātauranga Māori perspective into areas of sanctuary relevance. 

Mātauranga and maramataka/lunar calendar for kākā and kererū was the focus for ZEALANDIA’s inaugural mātauranga Māori summer researcher Juniper Sanson (Tainui).  Juniper researched the existing mātauranga for these two species in the Wellington region and explored integrating maramataka research and behavioural observations of manu/birds at ZEALANDIA and Ōtari.

Her project began to identify how these knowledge systems could work together to deepen our understanding of how kākā and kererū respond to and interact with their environment. Ultimately, this approach could help us to ensure that both species thrive beyond ZEALANDIA and across the wider Wellington region.  This is the first time anyone has attempted this type of interdisciplinary research for birds in Wellington. Juniper’s work will lay the foundation for future mātauranga and maramataka research collaborations.

This year Juniper is expanding on her previous research with a focus on kākā. She is using the national library and archives to research existing literature, looking into stories and whakataukī/proverbs to better understand past kākā behaviour and how it might have changed over time. She is also interested in kākā behaviour in relation to their interaction with plants.

An additional element this year is investigating stories about birds, specifically about omens relating to pīwakawaka/fantail and ruru/morepork and trying to break down the context behind these. Many people have anxiety when pīwakawaka/fantail are inside, considered by some as a sign of significant bad luck, but the ‘why’ behind beliefs like this is often lost through incorrect understanding and translations over time.  Juniper hopes to uncover more mātauranga about this topic.    

Juniper studies environmental science and ecology at Victoria University.


Joining and complementing Juniper’s research this summer is Fin Johnson (Ngāti Kahungunu ki Heretaunga) who is looking at how representative current kākā populations compare in relation to past populations. While it is incredible to see kākā populations spreading across the Wellington region, how do we know if this is representative of past populations and where they could be found.

To learn more about this, Fin is looking at maps of current kākā distribution as well as maps with Te Reo Māori place names which mention kākā. These place names give insight into where these birds would have been found in the past and is important as they can give conservation organisations an understanding of where kākā were, therefore what their habitat requirements are, and how current restoration compares. Just like some plant species have been introduced to regions they were not previously in, it is important to understand where animal species have come from and whether they would thrive better in other regions or places.

Fin is also looking into the human-kākā relationship and how this has changed and shifted through time.  His recognition of the importance of a Te Ao Māori approach to understanding manu helped him identify this as a research topic. Manu, from a Māori perspective, are enormously significant in ways that extend far beyond them as a resource and he wants to explore this relationship further. For example, from fine, detailed and sophisticated observation over vast periods of time, this collected mātauranga was passed through the generations via techniques of knowledge transference of waiata/song, whakataukī/proverbs, whaikōrero/oratory and pūrakau/indigenous ancient narratives.  Manu are critical to Māori far beyond them as a practical resource (food/clothing/status adornment/jewellery). They had other practical uses observed from their behaviours and characteristics, such as influencing movements in war – the dexterity of the pīwakawaka was copied into weaponry work, the feet pacing of Pūkereo, Takahē and Kiwi adopted by tama toa/soldiers in enemy territory was adopted, the presence of different manu species would indicated seasons and weather.

This research will allow for a more holistic view into the interconnectedness of the environment. Western science normally trains scientists to observe the world through a singular lens, through the field of science they specialise in. However, it is important to understand how all things are connected as nothing exists in isolation and mātauranga Māori provides a lens which shows the whole picture. To fully understand the ngāhere/forest, it requires us to understand the many connections involved in these ecosystems.

Fin’s undergraduate degree was in Psychology and Māori Studies, and he is current a post graduate student at Victoria University.


The Mātauranga Māori scholars share five supervisors and include Victoria University avian ecologist, Dr Rachael Shaw, Otago University, terrestrial ecologist, Dr Priscilla Wehi, astro physicist and Victoria University, maramataka expert, Dr Pauline Harris. ZEALANDIA staff and mana whenua, Lead Rangers Sanctuary to Sea and Bi Cultural Engagement, Aaria Dobson-Waitere and Terese Mcleod are joined by two environmental monitoring officers, Dr Sara Moylan and Bart Cox from Greater Wellington Regional Council.  ZEALANDIA’s Terese Mcleod says, “it was very deliberate and strategic of the scholars and support staff put around this programme and the scholars – I wanted the best internationally recognized across relevant disciplines academic scholars, with the full credentials in the realm of avian, terrestrial and Mātauranga Māori balanced with Iwi support.

Victoria University and Greater Wellington Regional Council are co-funding the scholarship.


Previous Article New rare species planted at ZEALANDIA
Next Article Lower Reservoir Restoration Project

Theme picker