Air New Zealand, DoC partner to transfer rare native tūturuatu to Motutapu Island

  • 16/08/2022
Air NZ flies chicks to Motutapu Island
Shore plovers are native to NZ and there are only 250 birds left. Photo credit: Supplied / Air New Zealand / Getty Images

National carrier Air New Zealand has had an interesting few weeks amid mass flight rescheduling and long waits to talk to customer service - but it has also taken time to help out with some rare birds.

The airline has given a ride to six young tūturuatu (shore plovers), moving them from the Cape Sanctuary in Hawke's Bay to a new home on Motutapu Island.

Shore plovers are native to Aotearoa and are one of the world's rarest shorebirds. There are currently just 250 of the birds, which are only found on two predator-free islands off New Zealand's coast and in the Chatham Islands.

In partnership with the Department of Conservation (DoC), the airline flew the tūturuatu chicks from Hawke's Bay to Auckland this week.

Air New Zealand's acting head of sustainability Jenny Sullivan said the airline was proud to work so closely with the DoC.

"To be able to help move our precious wildlife around Aotearoa to ensure they thrive for future generations is incredibly special to everyone here at Air New Zealand," she said.

Four of the birds were bred at the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust in Christchurch and joined the two others raised at Cape Sanctuary prior to release day.

Since hatching in summer, the birds have been looked after thanks to a collaborative effort from Cape Sanctuary staff, dedicated volunteers, and supported by the local hapu Ngati Mihiroa, who escorted them to their release site.

The chicks will spend around three weeks acclimatising to their new surroundings at an aviary on Motutapu Island. Once they've acclimatised, they'll be released into the wild to help bolster the shore plover population on the island's shoreline.

DoC technical advisor David Houston said a stoat incursion on Motutapu Island a couple of years ago all but wiped out the shore plover population, but the department and Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki have worked hard to eradicate the pests.

"This transfer is the first step in restoring a breeding population of Shore plover to the island," he said.

"A number of transfers over several years will be required to achieve this and we're grateful to Air New Zealand for the support they provide."

Over the past 10 years, DoC and Air New Zealand have partnered in relocating over 4000 native birds including kiwi, kākāriki and takahe.

The airline has also transported a number of conservation dogs vital in finding and keeping our wildlife safe from predators.

The shore plover chicks were transported in the aircraft cabin, securely fastened in seats, and touched down in Auckland yesterday morning.

Flight attendant Annalise Michie said the experience of welcoming the feathery passengers was one she would never forget.

"It's a fantastic opportunity to be a part of. It's not every day you get to say you played a small part in helping support the amazing work DoC does to protect the country's unique wildlife."