Opuiaki Ecological Area is on the Mamaku plateau behind Oropi. The Opuiaki kokako in 1983 were the largest population of kokako known to be surviving in NZ/world at that time, about 300 birds. They were the flagship species used to save the Mamaku and Kaimai forests from further conversion to pine plantations in the early 80’s.
DOC ignored these forests and birds until in 2000, Basil Graeme asked a Forest and Bird member who was serving on the Conservation Board to raise the issue and to stir DOC into checking these birds. Basil had just learnt kokako had disappeared from all the other local forests such as Puwhenua, Otanewainuku, Aongatete, Kaimai etc. DOC did a survey and found 18 birds left!
DOC did a 1080 drop over some 6000 ha and set up bait stations over a 1000 ha core. After 2 years of baiting this core the population hadn’t recorded any chicks. It’s very probable there were only a couple of females in the 18 birds recorded. Very slowly things improved as they built up a few more female chicks, but in about 2010 the programme stopped. Fortunately, there are now several conservation groups championing the cause of the kokako in the southern Kaimai and Mamaku plateau and numbers continue to rise.
This history, and fate, of kokako is part of the background to the formation of the Aongatete Forest Restoration Trust by Tauranga Forest & Bird, which is why the adoption of a kokako symbol was fitting. It explains why one of our objectives is to advocate for widespread and sustained control of pests over the entire Kaimai Mamaku Conservation Park.
In 2022, a new hero bird knocked the kokako off it’s spot. Titipounamu (rifleman) might be NZ’s smallest bird, but it’s a superstar for Aongatete Forest Project. Our work has helped this bird make a remarkable comeback to become almost – dare we say it – common, in our forest. We think it deserves top billing, so even if you can’t see it in the bush, you can see it on our logo!