Inspiring communities to protect kea, New Zealand's unique mountain parrot

Threats to Kea 

Nine threats, actual and potential, to the wild kea population are currently identified. These may be broadly defined as either environmental and ubiquitous or human and localised:
Ground based pest control devices (e.g. poison baits and traps laid for pest control)
Poorly timed aerial 1080 pest control (non target risk without compensatory benefits)
Avian diseases
Climate change (through changes in predator abundance, food availability and habitat)
Destruction/removal of nuisance individuals (permitted or un-permitted)
Illicit wildlife trade
Projects are being developed to minimise the impact of each of these threats. Click on the link to view our current Threat Mitigation Projects.
Dead Kea at Arthurs Pass, Photo by Andrew Walmsley
Lead Poisoning
Ground-Based Traps

Lead Poisoning

Lead poisoning is a very serious issue for kea. Lead fixtures on old buildings in areas of the backcountry (e.g. huts, mines) and where kea and human habitats overlap have been identified as a source of lead exposure for kea. Kea of all age groups sampled in these areas have been found with significantly higher blood lead levels than those in remote areas.

Kea have been observed chewing these fixtures, and damage to lead-bearing buildings has been observed throughout the kea's range. Any level of lead exposure is considered unsafe, as lead can have subclinical effects that can compromise survival (e.g., depressed immune function, impaired development, decreased cognitive function etc.), as well as directly causing illness and/or death. Removal of lead from all buildings in the range of keas is therefore enormously important.

This is a huge job that will require cooperation between contractors, Department of Conservation and private land owners. There are options to involve volunteers through appropriate partnerships with organisations that have suitable H&S practices already in place.

You can find out more about this project here.

Kea – Human Conflict

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.
Find out more
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.

Introduced Mammalian Predators

Introduced mammals such as mustelids (stoats and ferrets), possums and feral cats are key predators of kea and are present across the extent of the keas habitat. These predators impact on the survival of kea nestlings and the survival of adult females. Stoats can reduce nest survival to near zero in the stoat plague years that follow mast events. Episodes of high adult female mortality may also occur during stoat plagues.

Controlling predators through intensive pest control programmes is therefore vital for the keas future. Predator control methods include baiting (aerial or ground-based applications) and trapping but must be used with caution as kea have been negatively impacted by both control methods, particularly in areas where kea are used to being fed by people. Risk mitigation is necessary at these sites to minimise the incidence of unintentional by-kill through aerial control operations. Read the KCT's position statement on pest control here.

View the video of Department of Conservation workers monitoring kea nests in Westland (please note, some content may be disturbing).

Ground-Based Baits and Traps

While pest control is generally beneficial to kea populations, non-target risk exists when devices do not adequately exclude kea.

Kea have been recorded dead or injured from investigating Timms traps, DOC200 traps, Sentinel traps, Victor traps, Fenn traps, and Philproof bait stations. Tampering with poison bait bags and long-life gel baits (various toxins) has been reported. Reports of cyanide paste smeared on rocks to kill possums above bush line are also of concern for kea.

Our Safe Ground Pest Control manual provides information on trap types and lures which are unsafe for kea and ways in which pest control devices may be made safer around kea. It also provides information on how to report kea interference and deaths as well as sharing any kea proofing methods that you have found useful.

It is important to note that kea are highly adaptive and inquisitive, so a trap that is not being interfered with on one occasion may be interfered with on another occasion, or at another location.

If you are experiencing issues with kea getting caught in traps or you suspect interference by kea, please contact us immediately for advice.
Download The Manual
Further ways to minimise risk to kea:
Reduce visual attractiveness – shiny, white or bright coloured objects are more interesting to kea. Painting pest control devices a dark colour will reduce their attractiveness.
Novelty value – Do not arm traps for at least 1-2 weeks after they are first set up – kea are attracted to and are most likely to interact with novel objects.
Do not use lures which provide a reward – once kea find a benefit to accessing a trap or bait station, they are likely to revisit, even if a reward (such as food or an object they can manipulate), is then removed.

Feeding of Wild Kea

Feeding wild kea interferes with their normal foraging activities and encourages them to hang around human areas for longer periods of time as they increasingly identify people with food. There are several negative consequences to this change in behaviour, i.e. conflict with local communities, ingestion of toxic items, car accidents and lead poisoning.

Any feeding of wild kea teaches them to seek out people for a food reward AND discourages them from foraging for food in the wild. Feeding wild kea does not help them but instead poses a serious threat to their survival.


Read Our No Feeding Policy


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