Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Zealandia: Preserving New Zealand Wildlife (Wellington)

Only minutes from the centre of New Zealand’s curiously bubbly capital, Zealandia is an inspiring project to restore a valley to its pre-human state. This reserve has managed to remove major introduced predators to the area with novel fencing, including rabbits, stoats, possums, mice, rats and more, allowing endangered birdlife, insects and other animals to thrive, enhancing the survival prospects of several severely threatened species.

Zealandia is named from the sub-continent that broke away from Australia some 80 million years ago taking a number of species unique to New Zealand. Without the existence of mammals at the time, fauna developed without defence mechanisms (a number of bird species lost their ability to fly) when such animals were introduced in the last several hundred years. A number of species continue to fight for their very survival.

Zealandia is rightly proud of two Takahe, plump flightless birds with blue-purple plumage believed extinct last century. Only around 250 of these highly endangered species exist anywhere mainly on small predator-free islands where their slow reproduction continue to pamper their survival. The lively takahe peck around grasslands, their oversized scarlet beak hunting for tiny insects and moist shoots.

The kaka are similarly endangered, brown plumage being setoff against a russet breast. Excitable in groups, they delicately eat berries, fruit and nuts, taking them in their claws much like typical parrots. Ingenious feeders encourage them to certain areas of the bush. Zealandia has much success in breeding kaka, the lack of predators keeping the eggs and mother safe through the long incubation period.

Tui flutter overhead among the thickets of bushland. Their iridescent blue-green breast glimmers in the dappled light highlighted by strange white tufts of feathers hang as a lace collar from their throat like dice from a rear-vision mirror. Tui are noted mimics of human sounds with their dual voiceboxes able to master a wide variety of vocalisations. Their curved beaks rummage among the fruits of trees and shrubs for nectar.

A number of other endangered birds including the famed kiwi and other species of parrots enjoy the Zealandia area.

Zealandia have a number of tuatara, a living fossil measuring just over half a metre, with a spiny ridge up its back. Over 200 million years old (from the time of the dinosaurs), they are the only survivors of an ancient type of reptile which vary considerably from lizards despite their appearance. Many ancient aspects are noteworthy including a third eye at birth (which disappears after several months), no ear (though an ability to detect sounds), teeth that are simply pointed parts of their jawbone and no penis (they reproduce more like birds). Rats have devastated the tuatara population with most existing on a few remote predator-free islands. Notoriously slow to reproduce (one lot of eggs every few years), tuatara are poorly understood by scientists with many mysteries about their existence still to be unravelled.

Zealandia is a wonderful tract of land with numerous well-signed paths to wander the heavy native New Zealand forests, spotting and listening for a variety of endangered native birds. A small boat chugs along a dam which once provided Wellington with its drinking water offering a superb vista across the verdant valley. Birds swoop and glide among the trees, visitors pointing enthusiastically as another species is spotted. The walks are supported with an excellent display showing the botanical history of the area and Zealandia’s 500 year ambition to return the preserve to its pre-human state, expected in the yehttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifar 2500. I’d suggest not waiting that long…

Photo credit: tuatara

I travelled as a guest of Qantas Airways on The Great Crusade, a promotion highlighting the best of travel in New Zealand while following the endeavours of the Qantas Wallabies to win the Rugby World Cup.


pooja singh said...

Is it only for the wildlife?

Barbara Weibel said...

How wonderful. I'm currently in the Galapagos, where there is an ongoing process of eliminating everything that is not endemic or native, so I have seen the results. Wonderful that New Zealand can also do this. It seems best accomplished, though, in small, more remote places that have natural boundaries, like islands.

Mark H said...

@pooja: It is the whole environment so it is wildlife, flora (they've planted lots of long-growing native trees), waterways and everything.

@barbara: I agree that it is easier with islands and NZ for one (though there are a number of countries) has a number of projects on remote islands preserving native wildlife and ridding islands of exotic predators. In the middle of Wellington is more surprising and a tougher effort.

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