Kea intelligenceIn a range of tests at the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in Christchurch, kea worked out that choosing a particular coloured token always led to a food reward, and even managed to learn which of their rangers was most likely to pick the token they wanted. —-Rachel Thomas, RNZ 4 March 2020

Killing an intelligent bird

By Roger Childs

kea 4 Clyde Graf (1)

A kea before 1080. (Clyde Graf photo)

These recent tests back up earlier research on the intelligence of these friendly but mischievous birds. However, like all avian creatures they are vulnerable to poison drops.

Kea have been killed in significant numbers by 1080 drops for decades. Ian Bradford recalls Kea in Nelson Lakes: “In my early years in Nelson Lakes National Park, I spent a lot of time on the tops. It was quite common for flocks of 20 or more Kea circling above us. As 1080 drops became prevalent Kea numbers reduced dramatically. For about twenty five years we did not see a single Kea.”

Kea killed by 1080

A kea after 1080.

In 2015 the Department of Conservation (DoC) announced that: Since 2008, 155 Kea have been monitored during ten 1080 operations. Of which 20 (13%) died after the toxin drop. (Reported in The Press.) Then in early 2016 DoC carried out drops in the Kepler area and the Kea population on Mt Luxmore, which was usually 6–12, dropped to just the occasional one.

Matukutuki ValleyAnd now in early March 2020 there is more official bad news. This follows a 1080 drop on 11-12 February over the Matukituki Valley in the Mt Aspiring National Park.

“… the Dept of Conservation announced that 6 out of 12 radio-tagged Kea have been found to have died, which means that 50% of ALL Kea in the area are likely to have been killed too.” –Carol Sawyer

Kea thrive in unpoisoned areas

Carol also comments on the birds’ success in areas where DoC hasn’t dropped the lethal green pellets.

The Fiordland Wapiti Foundation … banded 44 Kea in the Mid Burn valley. The Mid Burn is straight across Lake Te Anau from the Te Anau Downs boat harbour… These figures come from one of the Kea Survey party. I am told they will not have been able to band all the Kea in the valley, and that there could be up to 100 Kea in that area alone.

Compare that with Mt Luxmore (mentioned above), after a 1080 drop. And on the Kepler Track near the upper Forest Burn bivouac, a construction worker who was cutting the track about 30 years spoke of many Kea being around. He remarked that you couldn’t leave anything outside! But sadly there are no Kea there anymore.

DoC claims that 1080 drops are necessary to kill pests and save our birds. The tragic reality is that although some rats, possums, stoats and ferrets are poisoned, birds in large numbers, as well the insects they feed on, are amongst the casualties.