Scientist adopts Māori concepts to save penguins

11:39 am on 23 June 2017

A leading penguin expert says seeing the environment through the eyes of Māori is something more conservationists in Aotearoa need to do.

The little blue penguin is the world's smallest penguin, and generally comes ashore at night.

Kororā are the world's smallest penguins and generally come ashore at night. Photo: 123RF

Professor John Cockrem from Massey University is using his newfound knowledge of kaitiakitanga to protect the little blue penguin or kororā.

He said there are distinct differences in how Māori and Pākehā traditionally view the environment.

"I'm not Māori but my understanding is that it arises from the Māori world view of people being descended from Papatūānuku - people are related to animals and to plants and to the earth.

"The western view is that the environment is there for us to use and we are seperate from it."

Mr Cockrem said Pākehā did not realise how connected Māori were to the environment, and since learning of the Māori view he had been inspired to approach conservation in a different way.

He is working closely with Wellington iwi Ngāti Toa, at Hongoeka Marae near Porirua, to protect populations of kororā, the smallest species of penguin in the world.

He urged others to offer their expertise to Māori so they could excersise kaitiakitanga or guardianship.

"At Hongoeka with the Ngāti Toa community I can provide my knowldge and my expertise as a penguin biologist.

"There are a lot of people in conservation and at the same time it often does not involve the Māori community nearly as much as it could."

Mr Cockrem said he was not entitled to be a kaitiaki or guardian of the land, because his whakapapa did not extend back to the earth mother, Papatūānuku.

However, waste adviser Jackie Te Amo-Te Kurapa from the Para Kore Programme, which aims to reduce waste at marae, said kaitiakitanga was everyone's responsibility, not just Māori.

"I don't think its important for Māori, I think its important for human beings and for people all around," she said.

The environment needed everyone's protection so the younger generation could have a better future, she said.

Department of Conservation treaty and strategic partnerships director Joe Harawira said he had seen a big shift in the cultural attitudes there.

Treaty and strategic partnerships director Joe Harawira from the Department of Conservation.

Treaty and strategic partnerships director Joe Harawira from the Department of Conservation. Photo: RNZ / Te Aniwa Hurihanganui

He said they were committed to honouring the Treaty of Waitangi to ensure Māori retained their connection to the land.

"Our policies have been aligned to giving effect to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi"

Mr Hawira said this meant involving more Māori communities to re-engage with the whenua, and re-enable them to be kaitiaki of their taonga.

Mr Cockrem has just received a two-year Vision Mātauranga grant and said he would use the fund to install nest boxes and sound systems to help bring kororā back to the Ngāti Toa community.