New Zealand Aluminium Smelters

Kakapo recovery programme - Back from the brink: saving a New Zealand taonga

When New Zealand Aluminium Smelters joined the Kakapo Recovery Programme in 1990 only 49 of the endangered, iconic bird remained. Today 125 of the rare parrots live on three island sanctuaries off Stewart Island, in Fiordland and in the Hauraki Gulf.

In the past quarter century New Zealand Aluminium Smelters (NZAS) has contributed nearly $4.5 million dollars to the programme which is run jointly with the Department of Conservation and Forest & Bird. It was DoC’s first commercial partnership and is now also its longest lasting.

NZAS says a strength it brought to the programme was its commercial pragmatism and expertise in strategic planning.

Since 2004 smelter staff have also been able to be directly involved in projects supporting the programme. The company says the experience, ranging from technical maintenance on Whenua Hou - Codfish Island - to nest minding or supplementary feeding in the field, has been “life changing” for many of those involved.

In the past 10 years NZAS employees have contributed 1,100 days of voluntary support for the programme.

NZAS says the programme’s story has been one of slow but steady progress during the past 25 years.

In that time the company has built up strong relationships with Ngai Tahu, DoC, Forest & Bird, Crown ministers and New Zealand’s scientific community.

NZAS says an unexpected benefit of the partnership is that it has paved the way for international experts to assist with the programme, resulting in significant gains for both the kakapo and animal science.

Innovations have included the first artificial insemination of a wild bird in 2009 and behavioural training for the birds.

World-leading smart transmitter technology allows DoC to collect location, health, mating and nesting data remotely, while genetic management software was developed to help minimise the loss of genetic diversity in the population.

Conservation Minister Maggie Barry has commended NZAS for recognising in 1990 the conservation challenge the country faced. The collaborative approach it took then “blazed a trail” for others and DoC now has many commercial partners helping protect the country’s wetlands, endangered birds, Great Walks and marine reserves.

Forest & Bird says the involvement of NZAS in the programme has connected the kakapo with the Southland community. It says the smelter has also enabled the programme to keep advancing, developing improved breeding and nurturing techniques that will be used worldwide.

Part of the company’s contribution to the country’s biodiversity is through its advocacy for kakapo as a species. More than 9,200 New Zealanders were able to see kakapo at six organised viewing events during the past year.

In November 2013 the programme launched a new initiative, in which the public are able to symbolically adopt one of 14 birds.

The adoptions, which are offered in three tiers, include exclusive updates about a person’s kakapo each year upon renewal. Since being launched, the initiative has raised more than $84,400 through 541 adoptions.

The Community Initiative of the Year award category is sponsored by PEPANZ