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Waikato Times, 13.01.1994


Weka release scheme threatened

A pioneering weka release programme is under threat.

The native birds are failing to breed in numbers large enough to sustain the project in the Karangahake Gorge, near Paeroa. Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society (RFBPS) member Basil Graeme said pairs which had not mated would be swapped and the breeding habitat altered to see whether the situation changed.

"If we don't start making some progress we will have to say that the project is not working," said Mr Graeme.

The society had hoped to release up to 100 captive-bred. chicks into mainland areas each year in a bid to save the weka, a threatened native species. However, only about 20 will be put into the wild this year.

It is the second major setback for the RFBPS, which launched the unique release programme just over a year ago. Most of the 20 chicks released in the first 11 months died. Mr Graeme said the release area has since been shifted and six chicks are now living in the wild.

Project members are able to track the progress of three weka through radio transmitters which are fitted to the birds. The lack of chick numbers for release is now the society's main concern.

"We're feeling a bit vexed about the programme. If it's not one problem, it's another," said Mr Graeme.

Its future was jeopardised unless more weka chicks were hatched, he said. The society would monitor the project for up to another year before considering whether to shift it to an offshore island well visited by people.

"I think the weka is headed down the track to becoming endangered. It's prognosis for survival on the mainland is not good, said Mr Graeme."