Our Changing World

Thursday 24 April 2014, with Alison Ballance, Ruth Beran & Veronika Meduna

Audio from Thursday 24 April 2014

Not all audio is available due to copyright restrictions.

  • Rowi - the Rarest Kiwi ( 24′ 49″ )

    21:06 Rowi are New Zealand's rarest kiwi, and 'egg rescues' that see chicks hatched and raised in captivity have resulted in a big increase in the bird's numbers

  • Childhood Amnesia ( 15′ 2″ )

    21:34 Harlene Hayne explains some of the novel experiments used in her Marsden funded studies of memory in infants

  • Saving Kakabeak in the Wild ( 16′ 45″ )

    21:46 Only about 120 kakabeak plants survive in the wild, but the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust hopes to increase numbers in the Hawke's Bay.

On This Programme

Rowi – the Rarest Kiwi

Jim Livingstone carries a rowi egg in a heated and padded chilly bin (left), and view across South Okarito Forest to Southern Alps

Jim Livingstone carries a rowi egg in a heated and padded chilly bin (left), and view across the Okarito Kiwi Sanctuary in the South Okarito Forest towards the Southern Alps and Franz Josef Glacier (images: A. Ballance)

Ieuan Davies holds a rescued rowi eggThere are five different species of kiwi found in New Zealand, from Northland right down to Stewart Island. There are estimated to only be 72,000 or so kiwi surviving in the wild, and in unprotected populations numbers are declining at about 2-3 percent each year.

The rarest kiwi is the rowi, which is found only in the South Okarito Forest near Franz Josef on the West Coast. Its population was once as low as 150 but now numbers around 400 individuals, due to an intense management programme in which rowi eggs are collected from wild pairs at around 30 days of age to be hatched in captivity as part of Kiwis for Kiwi and BNZ Operation Nest Egg. 95% of rowi chicks are predated by stoats in the wild, so instead chicks are hatched in captivity, and then kept on a predator-free crèche island until they are about 1.2 kg in weight when they are considered large enough to be stoat-proof and are returned to either South or North Okarito forest.

Alison Ballance joins the Department of Conservation’s Jim Livingstone and Ieuan Davies (left, with rowi egg) on an egg rescue in the Okarito Kiwi Sanctuary, and hears how smart chick-timer transmitters worn by the male bird indicate when he has begun incubating an egg, and how the SkyRanger system flies over the South Okarito forest every fortnight during the breeding season to collect transmitter data from the monitored population.

Once Jim and Ieuan have collected the egg from the A. Harper pair (their second egg for the season) it is taken to the West Coast Wildlife Centre in Franz Josef where kiwi husbandry expert Kim Bryan-Walker checks and cleans the egg, and uses clear nail polish to fix a few cracks before putting it in an incubator which rolls it regularly and maintains it at optimal temperature.

Kim Bryan-Walker checks the development of a rowi egg (left) before it is moved into an incubator (right)

Kim Bryan-Walker checks the development of a rowi egg (left) before it is moved into an incubator at the West Coast Wildlife Centre (right) (images: Alison Ballance)

After hatching the chicks are kept in a brooder room at the centre for a few weeks, then they are moved to an outdoor pen to learn to forage independently before they are taken to the crèche island - Motuara Island in Queen Charlotte Sound – for a year or so.

The West Coast Wildlife Centre also looks after Haast tokoeka eggs and chicks.

Two kiwi chicks sleeping in their brooder units, and the outdoor kiwi nursery

Two kiwi chicks sleeping in their brooder units, and the outdoor kiwi nursery where chicks get used to feeding themselves before they are moved to a predator-free creche island (images: A. Ballance)

Here’s an update on the egg from Kim Bryan-Walker at the West Coast Wildlife Centre:

Rowi chick Whitaker at 5 days old“A Harper’s egg produced a lovely little chick we called ‘Whittaker’ – our little chocolate Easter chick! Whittaker is pictured left at 5 days old (image courtesy of West Coast Wildlife Centre). The patch up of the toe print damage through the egg shell worked very well and kept everything nice and clean throughout incubation. Whittaker took 5 days to hatch and finally popped out on 21/3/14, weighing a very healthy 306.2 grams. Whittaker was a lovely bird to raise, with a very calm and curious personality. He had a slight hiccup and needed antibiotics when he was 7 days old, as he started scoffing a bit too much food too early and gave himself an upset tummy. That cleared up well and he has been happy and healthy ever since.

Whittaker has just been released into the Department of Conservation managed outdoor pens, so a very exciting new environment for him to explore, and he’ll be there for a month or so.

Whittaker is the 5th chick we have raised from the A Harper pair since starting with Operation Nest Egg at our facility in the 2010/11 season, so they are a very successful pair who produce very healthy chicks. Whittaker’s sibling from this season hatched in January this year and was called ‘Flapjack’ because the chick lived with a flatmate called ‘Pancake’. The chick called ‘Pancake’ was well known for sleeping stretched out flat on its stomach, like a pancake!

Whittaker was the last chick of the 2013-4 season for the West Coast Wildlife Centre – a busy season in which 75 rowi and Haast tokoeka chicks hatched."

Childhood Amnesia

Harlene Hayne and a treasure hunt in the sandbox

From left to right: Harlene Hayne, and a treasure hunt in the sandbox

While our early childhood experiences have a formative impact on our development, very few people have memories of events earlier than the age of three or four. This inability to recall experiences from our infancy and early childhood is known as childhood amnesia.

Harlene Hayne from the University of Otago has been trying to understand the mechanisms responsible for this phenomenon by studying memory development during infancy and early childhood. To do so, she has used a number of unique nonverbal techniques because the infants and children being studied are often unable to speak or explain in words what they remember. Some of the tasks that Harlene and her team have developed involve a large train track, a treasure hunt in a sandbox and the incredible shrinking machine (pictured below).

The Incredible Shrinking MachineWhat she has found is that while the hardware and software are in place for infants to store and retrieve memories, these memories are highly specific, so it may be difficult if not impossible for early memories to be retrieved by cues that were not part of the original experience. Which means that our early memories probably go unretrieved and unexpressed and are eventually lost. While Harlene is still an active researcher and has received a number of Marsden grants, she is also the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Otago, and Ruth Beran speaks with her in her office in the Clocktower building.

Harlene will present two lectures at 12.30pm and 6pm on Thursday 1 May in Wellington as part of the Royal Society of New Zealand’s 10x10 series to mark the 20th anniversary of the Marsden Fund.

Saving Kakabeak in the Wild

kakabeak top

Kowhai ngutukaka, or kakabeak (Clianthus maximus) is one of New Zealand's native flowering plants, and a popular garden plant. Many of us grow a kakabeak in the garden, but in the wild there are only about 120 shrubs left, making kakabeak one of New Zealand's most threatened plants. It is so rare, in fact, that each wild plant has its own name.

pete shawThe main threat is browsing. Kakabeak is part of the pea family and goats, pigs, deer, rabbits and snails (but not possums) like to eat young shoots, killing the plants before they can flower and set seed. One of New Zealand’s first native plant conservation programmes was created to protect kakabeak around Lake Waikaremoana, one of a few areas in the central North Island where it still holds on in the wild. In the Hawke's Bay, the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust has made it one of its goals to increase the number of kakabeak plants by propagating seed collected from local shrubs.

Trustee and forest manager Pete Shaw (pictured on the right) introduces Veronika Meduna to some of the local plants, including Edge, Whiteslip and Gareth, which are all clinging to a steep bluff in the privately-owned Maungataniwha native forest. They have been fenced in to protect them from browsing, and the trust has also established a nursery at the banks of the Waiau River, where seed collected from the local shrubs is planted. The first planting of nursery-grown kakabeak back into the wild took place in the winter of 2010, but the trust is also experimenting with a gunshot propagation method, which would mean that seed could be shot straight back into the cliff to germinate in place.

changing a transmitter on North Island brown kiwi in Maungataniwha native forest
Barry Crene looks after kiwi in the Maungataniwha native forest, here changing a transmitter on a male bird. (image: J. Crampton)

Kakabeak conservation is only one aspect of the work carried out by the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust, which is built around the native forests owned by Auckland businessman Simon Hall. Extensive predator control within a 600ha sanctuary keeps predators in check and creates a safer environment for a number of native species, including native mistletoe, the blue duck, or whio, and North Island Brown kiwi.

The Maungataniwha kiwi project is part of BNZ Operation Nest Egg (see also our story about rowi, New Zealand's rarest kiwi, above) and has produced nearly 200 North Island brown kiwi chicks that have been released back into the wild. Pictured above, Barry Crene changes a transmitter on a male kiwi called Sam. The birds are monitored so that their eggs can be removed and incubated, and the chicks are then reared in safety at the Cape Sanctuary at Cape Kidnappers, south of Napier, before being released.

The Maungataniwha forest also covers an area where amateur palaeontologist Joan Wiffen discovered many dinosaur and marine reptile fossils, and you can listen to our programme about a dinosaur fossil fieldtrip in the area, with Pete Shaw and GNS Science palaeontologists James Crampton and John Simes.


Next Week

Household waste minimisation, genetics of leukemia and printing a life-size robot in 3D.