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Protecting an endemic species

Eastern Whio Link is a hunter and fisher-led conservation project that began in July last year in response to the dwindling numbers of whio (blue duck) in the Waioeka Gorge Scenic Reserve.

Sam Gibson, NZ Landcare Trust East Coast catchments coordinator, has been hunting and tramping through the Waioeka for years. His first tramping experiencing in the reserve was when he was seven years old.

When he reconnected with friends and whanau Kerry Gibson and Jeff McLaughlin, the trio headed into the Waioeka Gorge and saw the small amount of whio there.

“We remembered when they were in abundance, you would see whio consistently,” Mr Gibson said.

“It dawned on me that we were the ones using the area so we should be the ones to look after it. We are invested in the place,” Sam said.

They decided to do something about it.

Mr Gibson spoke with the Department of Conservation and the Gisborne District Council.

After explaining to DoC what they wanted to do, they got permission to set up a trapping area within the Waioeka Gorge.

It was July, the middle of winter, and the group went in with dogs, fishing rods and started setting up traps.

“We were chest deep in water, it was freezing. We had to make a fire when we got to the other side of the river for the dogs. It was pretty hard work but we managed to set up 90 traps, which was 9km of river.

“In that footprint we found only four whio. One pair and two males,” Mr Gibson said.

Eastern Whio Link use the A24 self-resetting traps, which automatically kill 24 rats, stoats or mice one after the other before needing to replace the gas canister.

When the pest tries to reach the lure inside the trap, they brush past a trigger which fires a piston, killing them instantly. The piston then retracts and resets.

“We can set them in July and leave them until November, which means there is a section you don't need to worry about,” Mr Gibson said.

Since the first traps were set up they have extended the project to include over 300 traps. This was done prior to breeding season.

The successful trapping found 20 juvenile whio throughout the area in the first year.

The project started with eight people and now there are 70 volunteers.

Mr Gibson is working closely with Matawai Marae who are supportive and see it as necessary work.

“They are helping us facilitate wananga to learn about how to do this mahi with the right tikanga.

“We have volunteers that come from across New Zealand so it is important we know the right tikanga for the job,” Mr Gibson said.

Whio are susceptible to two things — stoat predation and flooding.

“We can't do anything about the flooding except for karakia.”

Eastern Whio Link has two goals — get an interconnected population of whio from Te Uruwera to the East Cape and help facilitate the creation of good bushmen and women.

It takes three days to do the work that is needed to set up traps and monitor the whio. One day to do the work, half a day getting in and out of the bush, and the rest of the time is spent hunting, fishing and foraging.

“We are helping people understand the ecosystem in much greater detail, such as things like teaching people that deer eat the understory. When the understory is gone it can cause the cliff to fall, which pushes silt into the river and if the silt gets between the cobblestones there is nowhere for the whio food to live. If the whio kai doesn't have anywhere to live, the whio doesn't fair too well,” Mr Gibson said.

Whio eat little invertebrate larvae that live in between stones. Whio's rubber bills allow them to get between the small cracks.

“We want our people to retain the knowledge and understanding of the bush so we can all care for it.”

HELP US OUT: Hunter and fisher-led conservation group Eastern Whio Link is helping increase the population of whio (blue duck) in the Waioeka Gorge Scenic Reserve. Picture supplied by Eastern Whio Link
LINKED UP: Eastern Whio Link is aiming to one day have an interconnected population of whio from Te Uruwera to the East Cape. Picture supplied by Eastern Whio Link

  1. Craig Irving, Palmerston North says:

    How can I help?