Three young whio (blue duck) have been successfully rehomed in Mt Aspiring National Park thanks to the efforts of the Department of Conservation (DOC), Real Journeys, Genesis Energy and Air New Zealand.
The rare native ducklings were caught by DOC rangers near the Milford Track a week ago and flown by helicopter from Fiordland National Park (where whio have been breeding successfully) to a valley close to the Routeburn Track.
“It is a big effort for three birds, but there’s not a lot of whio in this area so we really need to boost those numbers quickly before potentially they could die out in here,” says Andrew Smart, DOC Services Ranger.
The timing of the operation was crucial. The ducklings had to be caught and relocated at about 10 – 12 weeks just as they were about to leave their parents in search of their own territories.
“All we’re doing is giving them a nudge and flying them into some great habitat where they’ll be welcomed by the locals, most of whom struggle to find a mate,” says Andrew.
This was just the first of what will be several whio relocations, funded by Real Journeys. Marketing Manager Ajit Pilo says "Real Journeys has always been involved in conservation. Several of our staff help maintain predator trap lines in Fiordland so for us it’s very rewarding to be involved in this side of helping build the whio numbers”.
It’s hoped that soon those walking the Routeburn Track will start to notice the unique sounds of the whio - the males whistle and the females growl.
Andrew Smart calls them the coolest duck in the world. “They’re interesting birds, they often don’t swim away from you. They’re quite an interactive duck and quite curious about what’s going on, so people should hear the whistle and hopefully check them out and see them and go ‘wow’.
Whio are one of only four duck species in the world that live in fast flowing, clean rivers year round. There are only an estimated 2,500 whio left. They are only found in the North and South Islands of New Zealand.