Pukaha National Wildlife Centre is breeding New Zealand’s rarest parakeet. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

LISA URBANI
lisa.urbani@age.co.nz

It is thought that there are only 300 orange-fronted parakeets left in New Zealand, the majority of which are found in four beech forest valley locations in the South Island.

Now, Wairarapa’s Pukaha National Wildlife Centre is breeding this endangered species for the first time.

Born in late February to the centre’s sole captive breeding pair, the four orange-fronted kakariki chicks, will be released into the wild in the coming months.

This is the first time Pukaha has had success in breeding this rare parakeet, and they attributed this to the efforts of Tara Swan, a captive breeding ranger at Pukaha.

She pays particular attention to detail, and said that while Pukaha had the facilities and the expertise, it had been necessary to examine what had been done previously, and closely observe the behavioural patterns of the parakeets.

“Only by noticing those could we then make small adjustments that we felt could make a difference.”

One such change was making the diet more species specific, which included a higher proportion of seeds and natural fruits.

Swan said, “seeing such rare parakeets thrive under their new diet was a game-changing moment”.

“We are absolutely thrilled to now be able to contribute to the national conservation of this critically threatened species.”

This announcement marks the end of the seven-year breeding programme for the red-breasted kakariki, which will culminate with the release of 10 birds into a predator-free fenced reserve, at Cape Sanctuary Maungatapu, in Hawke’s Bay, in July.

According to Swan, “the wild populations of these parakeets have been recovering really well in recent years, so we felt we no longer needed to contribute to their ongoing population recovery”.

The centre will now focus on breeding the more endangered orange-fronted kakariki and the near threatened yellow-fronted kakariki.