Above: The disappearance of all but three Endangered shore plovers has left researchers puzzled. Were they taken by predators or did they simply fly away? The Mana Island colony was vital to the species’ conservation project. Photo: Sharon Gamble


A COLONY OF Endangered shore plovers (Thinornis novaeseelandiae) has disappeared in New Zealand, leaving conservationists baffled. 

As we reported earlier this year (see News, May 6), the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) transported five young shore plovers to Mana Island off the Wellington coast, to join other birds already introduced there, in another attempt to reestablish the species to the mainland. Sadly, it appears that nearly all of the 30 birds have vanished. The DOC told C&AB they don’t known whether the birds were killed by a predator or simply flew to the mainland.

A specialist search and recovery team were deployed to successfully recapture the three remaining survivors, found on Plimmerton Beach on the mainland. The birds were colour-ringed but did not have satellite tags. Dave Houston, one of the conservationists in charge of the project, said that substantial time and money had gone into the project, and the birds’ mysterious disappearance was frustrating. 

“The birds haven’t stayed at home like we hoped they would,” he told The Guardian. “We honestly don’t know what is making them leave; but it could be that a single bird decided to fly to the mainland and everyone else followed them – it could be random behaviour, we’re not sure.”

He continued: “It is frustrating, we can give them strict instructions, but they choose not to obey. They are a challenging species to manage, so it’s a great loss to then lose them. But we persist.”

The three survivors were fitted with radio transmitters and returned to a temporary aviary on Mana Island where they will be held for a month rather the usual week, to help them establish fidelity to the island.

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