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Te Manahuna Aoraki

Rewilding New Zealand’s Iconic Landscapes

There are few places on the planet that can boast landscapes as beautiful as New Zealand’s South Island. That beauty is punctuated by the incredible wildlife species that are found nowhere else, including the world’s rarest wading bird, the Black Stilt or Kakī (Māori)—a small bird but a mighty flagship for conservation. 

Global Wildlife Conservation is a proud supporter of the Te Manahuna Aoraki Project, a large-scale conservation project launched in 2018 to restore the iconic landscapes and threatened species of the South Island’s upper Mackenzie Basin and Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park. Once on the brink of extinction, we can now give thanks to The Te Manahuna Aoraki Project for the return of the Kakī on New Zealand’s South Island. According to the project’s website, this majestic part of the world is “known for its golden tussock land, towering snow-capped mountains, high-country farms, and turquoise glacier-fed lakes.”

The Te Manahuna Aoraki Project uses natural barriers, including 3,000-meter-high mountain peaks, ridgelines, and waterways to prevent the invasion of invasive species such as rats, possums, and stoats—which have in the past driven native species to the brink of extinction. It also aims to remove invasive weeds that can choke out native plants essential to a healthy ecosystem. The 310,000-hectare predator-free “island” will preserve and protect the habitats of 23 threatened species, including Wrybill, Robust Grasshoppers, Rock Wren, Jeweled Gecko, Kea, and Kakī.

Kakī were once widespread across a unique system of braided rivers in New Zealand and considered New Zealand’s common stilt. Today—as the result of introduced predators and habitat destruction—they are Critically Endangered. Considered a living treasure by the Maori, Kakī’s are poised to make an inspiring comeback with the help of the Department of Conservation’s successful captive breeding and release program.

Learn more about this rare and incredible wading bird below.

Wild Facts
The Maori consider Kakī a living treasure.
Have distinct black plumage and long pink-red legs.
By 1981, the Kakī population had plummeted to 23 known birds.

Te Manahuna Aoraki Project in Action

The recent success of the Department of Conservation’s captive breeding center for Kakī has spurred tremendous hope for the species, multiplying the population nearly six-fold since it plummeted to a mere 23 birds in 1981. As of February of 2018, there were 132 adult birds in the wild.

The program’s success has relied, in part, on a six-bay aviary that provides habitat and space for groups of young birds to be raised together from hatching—birds that can ultimately be returned to the wild. Through a significant contribution, GWC is also supporting the construction of a 10-bay aviary that will boost the program’s rearing capacity by an extra 60 birds each year.

Ultimately the program aims to return enough birds to the wild that Kakī chicks can once again fledge naturally in the wild throughout their historical range. The combination of captive rearing and release, and protection of the species’ habitat through the Te Manahuna Aoraki Project, in addition to a number of other initiatives, is a powerful testament to New Zealand’s commitment to this species and those that share its home.  

2018 was a record-breaking year for the Kakī population, with the fledging of 194 chicks in captivity. In addition, eight chicks were fledged by foster parents in the wild and an another eight chicks were fledged by wild parents without any management. The DOC also carried out four releases of captive-reared Kakī, including the release of 44 juvenile birds on the Tasman River and release of 135 teenagers (sub-adults) at the Godley Delta and the Tasman River.

“It’s always really exciting for DOC staff and others who attend the release,” said the DOC’s Marcus Gibbs. “A Kakī release is the fruition of all the hard work that has gone into rearing the birds and it is really great to see them fly free for the first time.”

Solutions for Kakī

Your support will help provide these essential initiatives and tools to restore the Kakī population and protect their habitat through the Te Manahuna Aoraki Project.

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Chick Rearing

Collecting Kakī eggs from the wild and rearing them through to release to give them a fighting chance at survival.

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Population Monitoring

Monitoring the wild Kakī population for survival rate and breeding habits of released birds.

Get The Details

Species Red List StatusPopulationLocation StatusPartners

132 as of February 2018

Confined to the open braided rivers and wetlands of New Zealand’s Mackenzie Basin in the South Island

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