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Category — Kea Encounter

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   No Comments

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!

kea

June 11, 2015   4 Comments

Hand Rearing Kea: Behind the Scenes at Wings of the World

Here in the Wings of the World bird house at the Cincinnati Zoo, kea are all the hype this season. And this is with good reason. The success of the new interactive flight this past summer is noteworthy, but behind the scenes something just as exciting was occurring. The Wings of the World department includes an area off exhibit dedicated to incubating eggs and hand-rearing chicks.  This year we successfully hatched out and raised six kea chicks. Raising this species is a very time consuming process that requires the help of all the bird staff over the course of five months, from day one of incubation to fledging.

Artificially incubating eggs is a delicate endeavor. Eggs are fragile and sensitive; therefore it is vital to keep them in a clean environment with precise temperature and humidity settings. The bird department has four incubators dedicated to this, all set up for different species of birds that may require different parameters. Eggs are weighed and candled twice a week in order to closely monitor development. Candling is a technique used to see the developing embryo inside the egg. This technique indicates to keepers whether or not a chick is developing correctly, is in the right position for hatching, and when the hatching process has begun. Keeping track of weights is an indicator of whether or not humidity in the incubator needs to be adjusted. Kea egg incubation term is 21-28 days.

Kea eggs in the incubator

Kea eggs in the incubator

Once a chick has pipped (pierced the outer layer of the shell), it is moved to a different incubator where the temperature and humidity is ideal for hatching. It can take anywhere from 24-72 hours for a chick to hatch. All six of our kea hatched out on their own and proved to be strong and healthy when they were immediately standing upright and exhibiting a feeding response.

Kea chick mid-hatch

Kea chick mid-hatch

After a few hours, the chick can be moved to another enclosure, called a brooder. The brooder keeps the chick’s environment at a warm stable temperature. Keepers use washcloths and towels rolled up in a bowl to simulate a nest. As chicks grow and down feathers come in, temperatures and enclosures are modified to fit their needs.

One-week-old kea chicks in brooders

One-week-old kea chicks in brooders

Kea chicks are fed a specialized formula that meets all their dietary needs. The formula is made up fresh at each feeding and fed through a syringe. Weights are obtained daily and detailed notes are kept to ensure the chick is gaining the appropriate amount each day and hitting developmental milestones. The keas are initially fed every three hours, six times per day. That makes for a long day for the bird keepers! When the chicks start to become very mobile and curious with their surroundings, solid food is offered. Whether they play in it, walk in it, or sleep in it, it’s a good experience for them to have access to solids.  The bird staff spends a lot of time hand-feeding different food items in different forms until chicks begin to show interest. Overall, the best method to wean chicks is to have an adult kea around to show them how a real kea does it.

Five-week-old kea chick sleeping in its food plate

Five-week-old kea chick sleeping in its food plate

Once the kea are fully feathered and starting to self-feed, we begin daily field trips to the kea exhibit and holding areas. This gives the chicks an opportunity to adapt to a new environment, explore, exercise, and learn how to behave around adult keas.  As the chicks become more comfortable in this new environment, the longer they can stay out. The length of the trips and the need for supervision from keepers all depends on how the kea seem to be adapting. Overall, it takes around four months to hand-raise a kea and then fully integrate it into the flock. This is on par with a kea chick that fledges around 3-4 months of age in the wild.

Juvenile keas have a yellow cere (fleshy pad above the bill) that makes them distinct from adults.

Juvenile keas have a yellow cere (fleshy pad above the bill) that makes them distinct from adults.

Raising kea takes a lot of time and effort from the bird staff, but the reward is great. The Cincinnati Zoo is the only AZA-accredited institution to hatch out and raise kea in the last five years. What an accomplishment!  Next time you are at the Zoo, stop by the free flight aviary next to Wings of the World and see if you can spot one of our six juveniles, all grown up.

 

March 2, 2015   2 Comments