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Giving the gift of survival

It is the iconic bird on our $10 note, and three of these is what it will take to help protect one of New Zealand's rarest species, the whio/blue duck.

Organised by hunter-led conservation group, Eastern Whio Link, the donations will give whio/blue duck a better chance at survival.

Formed by Gisborne-based ecologist and project co-ordinator Sam Gibson, Eastern Whio Link is a volunteer group of hunters and fishermen from across the Bay of Plenty who are committed to protecting whio/blue duck based in the Waioeka Gorge and wider Eastern Bay of Plenty area.

This highly-endangered endemic species is susceptible to attacks from stoats at key times in their life cycle — during nesting (August to November) and moulting (February to March).

To help combat this and increase whio's chance at survival, Eastern Whio Link is offering “stocking filler” sponsorship opportunities just in time for Christmas, the perfect gift for those hard-to-buy-for friends and family members.

A $30 donation sponsors one Goodnature self-resetting trap for a year.

They also offer a higher sponsorship tier of $300, which covers a one kilometre line of traps — enough to protect a whio's home range, the area where it lives, feeds, breeds and plays.

This is the first time they have run this initiative and see it as an opportunity to raise much-needed funds and awareness of the group's conservation efforts, Mr Gibson says.

“We're very fortunate to have great volunteer support and sponsors to help us do what we do.

“In our first year we achieved some great results for the whio population where we have been trapping — all the pairs in the project have chicks.

“We have a big vision to grow the area and we need more resources to do this.”

While Sam initiated the project in early 2019, the community has quickly grown through a shared passion for protecting this taonga (treasured) species.

“Ever since I was a kid I noticed the whio numbers had been declining to the point where we weren't seeing them on the river anymore,” he says.

“A bunch of us thought if we didn't do anything, there wouldn't be any left. So we initiated the conversation by putting notes in backcountry hut books and from there we got a bit of a crew together.”

The “crew” currently consists of more than 60 volunteers who have helped set 300 traps around Waioeka Gorge.

While they have had strong success in their first year, Sam and the team have a long-term vision to grow the project, and to connect whio populations from Te Urewera to those up the East Coast to Te Araroa.

“We can only do what we can with the resources and volunteer power available, so we're taking it step by step. I'm stoked with how we've started, but it's just the beginning.”

' To donate to the Eastern Whio Link and sponsor a trap, please pay your donation into the Eastern Whio Link bank account (38-9019-0892185-02), using your name as a reference.

Please also send a follow-up email to Mr Gibson at sam.gibson@landcare.org.nz to confirm the name for the personalised certificate.

Each donation will receive an electronic certificate of sponsorship that can be made out to the person you are gifting it to, as applicable.

CONSERVATION-CONSCIOUS CHRISTMAS: Volunteer group Eastern Whio Link is giving the gift of survival to whio/blue duck this festive season, and are encouraging New Zealanders to donate $30 to help protect the endemic species. Picture supplied by Eastern Whio Link