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Gorge gets new start with weka

NZPA Hamilton

The North Island weka is making a comeback in the Karangahake Gorge after being absent for more than 70 years.

The Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society believes the rugged gorge between Paeroa and Waihi is the best place to try to boost the flightless bird's numbers.

It has asked the Conservation Department for permission to release up to 100 captive-bred chicks a year near the Kaimai Conservation Park.

The society hopes the support of people living in the gorge will guarantee the success of the project, and the survival of the birds which once flourished throughout the North Island.

"Friendly residents are essential to the success of the release," said a society field officer, Ann Graeme.

"We want people to be good to the weka so we canvassed the area and most residents are supportive."

The first birds will be released late this year.

The gorge's mix of habitats and high rainfall made it an ideal base tor the programme, she said.

The last report of weka in the area was 70 years ago. The bird suffered a sharp decline in numbers throughout the North Island in the early 1900s, probably because of introduced diseases, predators and drought.

A strong population remained around Gisborne until it was knocked back by drought in the early 1980s.

The society has 15 breeding pairs of the birds in aviaries throughout the North Island.

The nucleus of the breeding stock is at the Otorohanga Kiwi House and 11 chicks have already been born.