Kea - Wild Population
Kea conservation status
Kea only gained full protection status in 1986 under the Wildlife Act, 1953. The kea is now listed as a Nationally Endangered species by the Department of Conservation (Hitchmough, 2002) and is listed as an endangered species by the IUCN. Kea are therefore regarded as facing a high risk level of extinction in the wild with an estimated number of 1000-5000 individuals remaining (Anderson, 1986). This uncertainty in estimates of population size is due to the extended range and behaviour of kea resulting in problems in surveying and monitoring of the remaining population.
Historical human impacts on Kea populations
Prior to 1971, a Government bounty for kea was in place. The legal culling of kea was primarily due to concerns by the sheep farming community of attacks by rogue kea on valuable stock in the high country. This resulted in over 150,000 keas being killed between 1860 and 1970 (Temple, 1978). The effect of this on the remaining kea population is unclear as is the continued removal of individual nuisance birds from areas of human habitation today.
Present day issues for Kea
Potential and immediate threats to Kea which must continue to be investigated include;
The keas intelligence and natural curiosity has continued to cause conflict with people who live in or utilise the South Island alpine areas. Priority should therefore be given to monitoring of the remaining wild kea population to ensure numbers are stable as well as developing techniques to minimise kea damage to human property. Informing people on the endangered status of kea and human impacts on their continued survival should also be a priority.
Kea food availability
The South Island high country areas are now under the management of the Department of Conservation, however, it should not be assumed that this engenders absolute protection for the wild kea population. Severe degradation of this environment and therefore the natural food sources of kea through historical clearing and farming practices of settlers have already raised issues of the keas ability to survive in the altered landscape. The transfer of high country sheep stations to conservation estate may have inadvertantly reduced the availability of foods normally accessible through human habitation. Without such food supplementation, kea may face one of their biggest threats yet. This is highlighted by historical studies conducted by Jackson (1969) which listed starvation and direct human interference as the greatest causes of death in kea in the wild.
Photo credit: Andrew Walmsley
August update: Several dead kea have been found by members of the public over the last month and reported into Department of Conservation staff.
A suspected incidence of lead poisoning has resulted in the death of a juvenile kea in the Nelson Lakes, Rainbow ski field area. A skier found the kea sitting beside the ski field road in July and passed the sick bird onto St Arnauds DoC. Unfortunately the kea died soon after and his body was sent to Massey University for a post mortem examination. Results will be updated in next months update.
Two other kea deaths were reported over the last month; one kea was found dead by a hunter in the Two Thumbs Range area and the other was caught in a trap in the Temple Basin area. We will keep you updated as to the details when we receive them.
In the meantime if you see any incidence of injury to kea, please inform your local DoC office and the Kea Conservation Trust as soon as possible.
In-situ (wild) Research
The status of kea in the wild is not well known. As such it is vitally important that research into the remaining population is conducted to ensure that appropriate management decisions are made in the future.
Funding has now been secured for two population surveys over the next 2 years;
Winter survey (sponsored by T-GEAR Trust) - July 2008;
Summer survey (sponsored by NZ Lottery Grants Board) - January 2009.
For more information on these projects, and what you can do to help, please visit our Kea Research page - Current Projects.
Photo: Chris Golding - Department of Conservation
Please visit our research and literature page for literature on wild issues.