Last weekend, I attended the first ever Kea Konvention jointly organised by the Kea Conservation Trust and Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand. It was a power-packed weekend full of presentations by scientists, volunteers and NGOS working to raise awareness of this amazing and unique bird.
For many of us, a highlight of visiting the mountains of the South Island is encountering kea – the world’s only mountain parrot and endemic to NZ.
Kea are a particularly engaging and mischievous bird with a distinctive call; they are known by Waitaha as the guardians of the mountains and are recognised by Ngai Tahu as taonga.
As Peter Hillary said in his speech to the Kea Konvention last week – the call of the kea is the call of the mountains. Sadly that call is disappearing.
The best guestimate of kea numbers is around 3-4,000 for the whole of the South Island. In many areas kea are in serious decline. Without urgent action, kea are at risk of going extinct in the wild in our lifetimes.
There are multiple threats to kea. The biggies are predation and lead poisoning.
Monitoring cameras show nests being raided by multiple predators including stoats, possums and feral cats – meaning that kea are disappearing from many areas.
The good news is that in areas of effective landscape predator control, kea are having much greater success nesting and raising young. Female kea need to survive to at least 10 years for a stable population.
Lead poisoning from lead nails and lead flashing used in high country buildings and mountain huts also pose a significant threat. Kea actively peck and ingest the lead which causes brain damage, organ failure and death. Sampling shows that lead poisoning of kea is widespread throughout the South Island.
Unfortunately, at the moment the survival of kea largely depends on the efforts of volunteers and sponsors because DOC is not funded sufficiently to carry out the work that is needed.
The Kea Conservation Trust, FMC, and other organisations do a great job. But they cannot do all of this work on the smell of an oily rag. It is simply not sustainable.
The government must step up before it is too late and fund the work needed to ensure that our iconic and wonderful mountain parrot thrives in the wild where it belongs – the mountains of Te Wai Pounamu.