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Category — Kea Encounter

A Day in the Life of a Kea Conflicts Coordinator

Here at the Cincinnati Zoo, we care for the largest collection of keas in North America. The kea is a highly intelligent mountain parrot from New Zealand. We are also committed to the conservation of this species and support the efforts of the Kea Conservation Trust (KCT) to conserve wild kea in their natural habitat.

A curious kea at the Zoo (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

A curious kea at the Zoo (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

Highly intelligent and neophilic (attracted to anything new), keas are drawn to human areas, activity and property. Their investigative behavior can result in the destruction of human property. Property damage is reported each year by private landowners, tourists, tourist operators and workers. The resolution of human-kea conflict is critical to the successful conservation of the endangered parrot.

To that end, the Zoo supports the KCT’s Kea-Community Conflict Response Plan, which is a multi-year community-focused conflict response and resolution program. The goals are to identify the nature of conflict experienced by people living within kea habitat, provide ‘first response’ during conflict situations, help people prevent problem situations arising in the first instance, and research practical methods of conflict resolution in collaboration and partnership with communities and the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC). Funds from the Cincinnati Zoo support a key personnel position, the Conflicts Coordinator, who responds proactively to conflict situations that arise. Read on to learn more from the Conflicts Coordinator, Andrea Goodman, herself.

Guest blogger: Andrea Goodman, Kea Conservation Trust

It has almost been a year since taking on the ‘Conflict Resolution Position’ for the Kea Conservation Trust. This is indeed a job that is never dull, uses my wits, and is incredibly satisfying. If I can walk away from a site feeling that the kea are  safe, the owner/occupier of the property involved is on-board and feels heard, and we are working together to tackle the kea problem, then I am doing my job. I must admit, visiting my first conflict site filled me with some trepidation… ‘How bad will it be?’, ‘How will the people receive me?’, ‘Will there be anger?’, ‘Can I really do anything?’

Of course there was some anger, plenty of frustration, and a little bravado, but the Nelson Forest crew having kea trouble at a logging site near St Arnaud were fantastic. Up to 10 juvenile keas had been visiting this site for a month, and they were doing the usual kea damage: plucking rubber, damaging wiring on logging vehicles and ripping into seats on bulldozers. Not much fun for the crew involved – costing time and money, and potentially compromising safety. Full credit to the team though, for they were not feeding the birds, they were keeping their vehicles shut and were trying to protect gear using blue tarpaulins. The loader driver had even been pro-active in searching the internet to find solutions to minimize interference from their feathered friends. What struck me most about this visit (leaving an impression as it was my first), is that this is the general attitude of people having kea issues. At every single site visit I have been to, I have encountered the most tolerant, understanding (sure, frustrated too), and helpful people.

The crew at the St Arnaud site went beyond helpful, giving me a hand setting up a diversionary play-gym. The gym is designed to occupy kea and hopefully distract them from expensive logging equipment. The crew then continued to change items on the gym and maintain the cameras we set up to see if our friends visited. Visit they did! However, the frame was not up long enough to see if it made a difference. The crew have since moved to another site, and so far, I have not heard whether kea have made their presence felt.

Setting up the kea diversionary frame at the St Arnaud logging site  with John Henderson – DOC, Brady Clements – Boar Logging, Meg Selby – Natureland Zoo (Photo: Andrea Goodman)

Setting up the kea diversionary frame at the St Arnaud logging site with John Henderson – DOC, Brady Clements – Boar Logging, Meg Selby – Natureland Zoo (Photo: Andrea Goodman)

Kea visiting the diversionary frame at the St Arnaud site (Photo: Andrea Goodman)

Kea visiting the diversionary frame at the St Arnaud site (Photo: Andrea Goodman)

To date, my main ‘clients’ have been forestry companies spread around the top of the South Island. Most have environmental protocols in place, which makes my job a lot easier.

One of the interesting things I see in this job is that altitude is no barrier to having kea visit. While it is always expected that kea may be present at high altitudes, I am regularly hearing of kea visiting properties right down at sea level. Once people realize this is natural for kea – they don’t just live in the mountains – there is almost a visible shift in their expectations.

We are so lucky on the mainland to have these birds. It is surprising how many people are not aware they are only found in the South Island. Armed with a little knowledge of these clowns, and exposing their vulnerable side too – that they are ground nesters – there may be less than 5000 left, they are susceptible to lead poisoning – leaves most people staunch advocates of our kea.

Only last week I had a call from a forestry company needing help with a sick kea at their site. The crew was really worried. They had picked it up and moved it out of harm’s way. This same company has had a rough time with kea, so their behavior really touched me.

I think if people are having issues with kea, the best thing is to get on to it as soon as possible. The Kea Conservation Trust, with support from the Department of Conservation, does not advocate the translocation of troublesome kea. Instead, together we can look at areas where we can minimize damage and try to discourage kea hanging around. Sometimes it may be a really simple solution that can make a huge difference. We are here to help.

February 3, 2016   2 Comments

Using Cameras to Protect Keas in the Wild

Modified from an article written by Jackie Bray, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, and Tamsin Orr-Walker, Chairperson, Kea Conservation Trust

The Zoo supports the conservation of kea, the world’s only alpine parrot species, in New Zealand through the efforts of the Kea Conservation Trust (KCT). Fewer than 5,000 kea remain and face threats such as conflict with people, loss of habitat, lead poisoning, predation by introduced invasive species such as stoats, brush-tailed possums, cats and rats, and unintentional by-kill by poisons used to control these invasive species.

Kea (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

Kea (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

One strategy of the KCT to conserve kea in their natural environment involves the protection of nesting sites. During the past breeding season (July 2014 to January 2015), video trail cameras were used to monitor nest sites and document breeding activity and conflict events.

Kea outside a nest (Photo: Kea Conservation Trust)

Kea outside a nest (Photo: Kea Conservation Trust)

A total of 33 female keas were monitored over five research sites, resulting in five successful nests producing 12 chicks, which is more than were documented in previous years.

Kea chicks in a nest (Photo: Mat Goodman)

Kea chicks in a nest (Photo: Mat Goodman)

Once active nest sites were identified, cameras were placed at the entrance to monitor breeding activity, predator visitation and chick development. A series of predator control traps were also deployed around the nesting areas to help protect the birds until the chicks fledged. The cameras documented several nests being visited by predators. KCT used this information to extend trapping systems, resulting in decreased predator visitation.

A brush-tailed possum caught on camera visiting a kea nest (Photo: Kea Conservation Trust)

Brush-tailed possums caught on camera visiting a kea nest (Photo: Kea Conservation Trust)

The cameras also provided valuable information on kea survivorship and repellent effectiveness during the New Zealand Department of Conservation’s (NZ DOC) scheduled 1080 poison drops in the Kahurangi National Park. In 2014, New Zealand experienced an intensive mast (seeding) event which resulted in a significant increase in numbers of mice, rats and stoats. A previous major mast in 2002-2003 appears to have been the cause of an 80% decline in kea numbers at Nelson Lakes. Current population numbers could not sustain another such event, making the widespread use of 1080 poison necessary. The kea’s inquisitive nature makes them more likely than other native avian species to investigate the poison baits, so the use of chemical kea repellents in the 1080 baits is being studied to reduce unintentional by-kill. Unfortunately Ceejay, one of the most productive females in the area, was found dead after ingesting 1080 poison.

The cameras also proved useful in March 2015, when keas were blamed for damaging bicycles and other property in a residential area. Cameras set up in the area were able to capture noisy nighttime activity (which was attributed to kea) generated by at least two possums and three cats on multiple occasions. One possum was actually caught on camera damaging property. The cameras helped defuse conflict between community members and the kea by allowing the KCT to accurately document conflict events.

Kea (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Kea (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Video trail cameras have provided the KCT with an incredible amount of valuable data which has been used to protect kea nesting sites and mitigate several human-kea conflict situations. The cameras also significantly reduced the amount of hours necessary for personnel to spend in the field collecting data, allowing the saved resources to be used in other conservation projects.




June 26, 2015   1 Comment

Saving the Kea

Hello! My name is Ke’Yasha Lumaine and I am a senior at the Zoo Academy. That’s right, the ZOO ACADEMY! I have been fortunate enough to actually go to school at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden my junior and senior years of high school. It has been an amazing life experience. There is a particular memory at the Zoo Academy that I will always think of fondly – my first encounter with the kea.

keyasha kea

During my senior year, I had the chance to do a lab rotation in the Aviculture (bird) department. It was the coolest experience that I have had with any department at the Zoo. Lab is where we spend two hours every day taking care of animals or maintaining Zoo grounds. I’ve had lab in Night Hunters, Maintenance, Commissary, Conservatory, Manatee Springs, Reptile House, Education and Education Interpretive Collection, yet no lab compared to the Aviculture department. At the time of my lab rotation, I had the chance to go into the Flight Cage which has kea, lorikeets, pigeons, and geese that are free to fly around the whole exhibit. To me, the most exciting birds in the exhibit were the kea. When Kim (an Aviculture keeper) and I walked into the enclosure, they all came wobbling towards us. They can look very intimidating with their long, sharp beak, strong claws and are pretty big in size for a parrot. I was a little uneasy about this at first but I felt sort of safe since Kim was there. They just swarmed around and played with us, climbing on my boots and following me around. They were like puppies, just with large beaks and wings! After my lab rotation, I learned that kea are the world’s only alpine parrot, that they live in the mountainous regions of South Island, New Zealand and that they were almost hunted to their extinction. Between the years of 1870 and 1970, it is estimated that 150,000 kea were killed by hunters who were paid bounties by the local government. Keas were hunted because their actions indirectly killed sheep. They would bite the backs of sheep and eat the fat stored near the kidneys. The sheep would often die later of an infection. The kea did this because, in the harsh winter months, the food that they would normally eat it is hard to find. One hundred years after the hunting began, a wildlife census found that there were only 5,000 birds left in the wild. After this, keas were granted partial protection until 1986 when they were given full protection under the Wildlife Act of 1953. Now, there are estimated to be 1,000-5,000 keas in the wild, making them a nationally endangered species. The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden has teamed up with the Kea Conservation Trust (KCT) with the hope that they can successfully increase kea populations. They use population research using vhf video tracking, nest monitoring devices and kea repellents to reduce human-wildlife conflict. The Zoo also sponsors KCT staff attendance at Human Wildlife Conflict Collaboration which enables the KCT personnel to enhance their skills of first response human-wildlife emergencies. In addition, the Cincinnati Zoo has the largest collection of keas in North America and is committed to their conservation. At the time of my lab rotation, the keepers had successfully bred a pair and their chicks were a few months old. After learning about kea and interacting with them, I wanted to find out what I could do to help them. I learned that there are numerous ways that we can help spread awareness and conserve their natural habitat. It can be something as simple as telling someone about kea, donating money to the Kea Conservation Trust, or placing change in the interactive enrichment puzzle at their exhibit. Every small contribution adds up to make a huge impact. Next time you come to the Zoo make sure that you make a stop by the flight cage and visit the kea. They really love interacting with new people!


June 11, 2015   4 Comments