Kea are unusual in that they actively seek out and interact with people and their property. This ‘neophilia’ – love of new things, has brought people into conflict with kea to an extent which is unprecedented with another endemic avian species.
Because of conflict with high country sheep farmers a legal government bounty was initiated in the late 1860’s which resulted in an estimated 150,000 kea killed up until the early 1970’s. Fewer than 5,000 individuals remain across an area of 3.5 million hectares and they are now listed as Nationally Threatened (NZ Threat Classification List) and Vulnerable, population decreasing under the IUCN Red List. Although kea are now fully protected under the Wildlife Act, their investigative behaviour often results in destruction of human property and as a result they are considered a nuisance in areas where they cross over with people. As such kea deaths due to direct human persecution are recorded each year.
Although Department of Conservation (DOC) and the Kea Conservation Trust (KCT) receive reports of conflict situations on an annual basis, it is recognised that many more conflict events go largely unreported as people deal with the situation illegally.
Kea carcasses recovered are all sent to Massey University for necropsy and a number of these are found to have died of shotgun injuries, blunt trauma or poisoning.
Current legal methods of conflict resolution include relocation of kea to another area by the KCT or DOC, or legal killing of nuisance kea (via a DOC permit). Neither solution is considered sustainable or ethical and finding more positive solutions to this ongoing issue are now a priority.