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Twenty years of tīeke
ZEALANDIA Ecosanctuary
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Twenty years of tīeke

Cast your mind back to 2002 when Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers premiered, Ben Affleck was named the Sexiest Man Alive, and the Warriors actually made it to the NRL grand finals.   

The winter of 2002 also saw the most ambitious species release in Zealandia to date.  

For more than 100 years mainland New Zealand was empty of the ancient wattlebird, the tīeke/North Island saddleback. Rats, stoats, cats, and humans drove them to the verge of extinction and only offshore island sanctuaries were graced with the sight of their chestnut saddles, bright red wattles, and the sound of their unique te te te te staccato call. Tīeke were restricted to ‘lifeboat’ island sanctuaries. 

All that changed in June 2002, when Zealandia received the first translocation of tīeke to a mainland sanctuary site. Members fundraised for a Zealandia team to travel to Tiritiri Matangi Island near Auckland to bring 39 tīeke back to Wellington.  

Supplementary feeders and nest boxes were placed in the sanctuary to encourage the manu/birds to stay within the safety of the sanctuary.  

While some tīeke flew over the fence (one as far as Makara Peak) and died, more settled in well, established territories and began pairing up. The first breeding season saw over fifty fledglings.   

The road to success for tīeke wasn't all smooth - numbers began to dwindle as many gravitated towards the warmer ridges across the fence, leaving them vulnerable to predators. Tīeke do a lot of hopping along the ground and hang out in low canopy foraging for invertebrates. They also often nest on the ground. There was fear for their future. At one point only five breeding pairs remained.   
After a steady recovery over the next ten years, tīeke are now a common sight within the sanctuary. 

In 2014, twelve years since they returned to mainland NZ, a nest was discovered outside the predator-exclusion fence. This was the first sign of tīeke nesting outside a sanctuary on mainland NZ for more than 100 years. The nest was quickly surrounded with a “ring of steel” stoat traps and rat traps to keep predators at bay. 

From then, tīeke have successfully bred in Polhill Reserve in Wellington’s town belt, a few kilometres from Zealandia. This has only been possible through the work of volunteers who manage a network of rat and stoat traps in the reserve and do advocacy work in the community encouraging dog owners to walk their pets on leashes. 

While tīeke are coping fairly well with the rough and tumble of urban life outside the sanctuary, they are restricted to forested reserves less than a couple of kilometres from Zealandia and only where established trapping networks exist. Success, as we have seen for kākā, is still a way off as tīeke are incredibly vulnerable to cats, stoats and other predators. 

What you can do to help tīeke continue to thrive: 

Tīeke photos: Janice McKenna, Judi Lapsley Miller

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