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The Fiordland Wapiti Foundation predator trapping programme commenced in 2005 and was due to a lot of hard work by founding member the late Ron Peacock, who sought funding from the Les Hutchins Conservation Foundation. That August a large number of volunteers took part in laying out around 175 trap boxes in the Worsley valley and the Castle valley. The Nitz valley was added to the programme in 2010 and the Glaisnock in 2011. The last valley was the Lugar Burn in 2014, with now a combined total of 500 traps set in all of the valleys.

The Worsley and Castle valleys are part of the Northern Fiordland Whio Security Site. Whio security sites are nationally important sites for Whio conservation. There are only 8 security sites nationwide (four in the South Island and four in the North Island). The Glaisnock/ Nitz/ Lugar Burn are Whio Recovery Sites which support Whio Security Sites by offering additional protected habitat for whio to occupy. The Glaisnock/ Nitz/ Lugar Burn Recovery Sites are viewed as one of the more important Recovery Sites nationally.

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The main focus for this programme is saving the endangered Whio (Blue duck) however the predator control programme has far more benefits than just saving Whio. Other iconic native species in the area, the likes of Kiwi, Weka, Kea and other birds, are all benefiting from the programme with the control of predators. The National population for Whio is estimated to be 2500-3000 birds and increasing thanks to trapping programs the likes of the Fiordland Wapiti programme.

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Wapiti hunters have had a long relationship with endangered species. Back in 1948 a now famous hunter Dr Geoffrey Buckland Orbell rediscovered the thought to be extinct Takahe.

Also back in 2010/11 WhiONE was performed. Thirteen whio eggs were collected from the wild in Fiordland, all of which hatched with the ducklings raised to fledglings at the Te Anau Bird sanctuary/Punanga Manu o Te Anau. These fledglings were transferred into the Fiordland Wapiti Area with 8 released in to the Worsley and 5 into the Castle valleys. Sponsorship was provided by the Fiordland Wapiti Foundation, through one of its sponsors.

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The Wapiti area programme operates in conjunction with the Department of Conservation and the Genesis Energy Whioforever Programme where currently there are over 600 pairs of Whio protected. Volunteers are essential to the success of the programme – especially in Recovery Sites. There are many who contribute, often travelling significant distances to participate.

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The traps are checked 8 times per year with volunteers coming from all types of back grounds; not just hunters. Because the programme is undertaken in the Glaisnock wilderness area of the Fiordland National Park (World heritage site) logistics can get a little interesting. The volunteers are dropped in by helicopter to service the trap lines and coupled with this, the famous Fiordland weather, planning is key to making this programme successful. Mainly due to logistics the trap lines come at a significant cost to the Fiordland Wapiti Foundation and thankfully the programme is supported by some wonderful sponsors. Estimated costs are approximately $45,000 per year to run the programme. This does not include volunteer’s effort.

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Whio Fun Facts:

  • The Whio is endemic to New Zealand, and one of only four duck species in the world that live in fast flowing water.
  • They can defend territories up to 1km long on the river.
  • They have webbed feet that collapse like a folded umbrella to create less drag, allowing the ducks to pull themselves forward through fast water.
  • They have a special soft lip on the end of their bill which acts like a head on a vacuum cleaner, allowing them to scrape off insect larvae that clings to rocks.

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The target predators for the trapping program are stoats and rats which are the biggest threat to Whio. Whio nest in burrows and caves along the river bank which makes them highly vulnerable to predators.

The Whio predator control project has been instrumental in bridging the gap between hunters and the Department of Conservation who both now work very closely to achieve a successful future for our Whio and other natives species in the Wapiti area of Fiordland. Local Department of Conservation staff are very supportive of the programme and offer advice, track markers, tape, and track cutting staff. Track cutting occurs about every 3 years due to windfall and regrowth.

Trapping results are recorded on a Department of Conservation database. Each year, they disseminate information on the year’s activities with an annual report.

There are opportunities for people to be involved with the Fiordland Wapiti Foundation whio program or any of our other programs like the Kea surveys or Hut restoration.

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