Friday, June 29, 2007

Rimatara Lorikeet project

"The people of Rimatara are to be commended for loving their bird so much, that they gave 27 of them away, to save them from extinction."

The beautiful Rimatara Lorikeet (also known as Kuhl's Lorikeet) is now living in Atiu thanks to the exceptional generosity of the people of Rimatara, Austral Islands, French Polynesia. The Rimatara Lorikeet which once lived in Atiu and other islands in the Southern Group of the Cooks became extinct early in the 20th century. The bird flourishes in Rimatara with a population of about 900 birds mainly because the Queen of Rimatara, Queen Tamaiva protected the bird.

One of the threats to the survival of the lorikeet is the Ship Rat, Rattus rattus. This rat does not exist on Rimatara. With the construction of the first air strip on Rimatara, followed by inevitable development, conservationists feared that the bird would be in danger of becoming extinct. Because the Ship Rat doesn't exist on Atiu, it was decided that a small population of birds be transferred from Rimatara to Atiu in order to protect the species from extinction. A party of conservationists including Gerald McCormack of the Natural Heritage Project and Jacqui Evans then of the World Wide Fund for Nature, travelled with the Queen of Atiu, Rongomatane Ariki Ada Nicholls and her spokesperson, Teokotai Mariri, to Rimatara in 2000 thanks to the assistance of WWF. The purpose of the trip was to ask the people of Rimatara for birds to be taken to Atiu, and to repeat a population count of the bird there, as well as a rat survey to determine if Rattus rattus had been introduced. The people of Rimatara agreed to the transfer. The bird population had not undergone any significant change and the Ship Rat was still absent from the island.

Some years passed before Gerald McCormack and MANU, the Ornithological Society of French Polynesia were able to secure agreement for the transfer from both the French Polynesian and Cook Islands Governments. After obtaining this approval it was necessary to return to Rimatara in January 2007 to confirm arrangements to transfer the bird. Because the birds had to be flown by aeroplane directly from Rimatara to Atiu without stopping in the international airports of both countries (Faaa and Rarotonga), immigration and customs approvals had to be sought. In addition, because the lorikeet is listed on the CITES schedule of endangered species, CITES permits also needed to be obtained.

With an iron will, Gerald McCormack was able to succeed in keeping all balls in the air and obtaining all the approvals necessary for the bird transfer. In April of this year, 27 birds were transferred from Rimatara to Atiu. Funds for the transfer were provided to Te Ipukarea Society Inc. by the British Bird Fair. Air Rarotonga, Atiu Villas and others also sponsored the project.

Now the people of Atiu must monitor the lorikeet and ensure that the Ship Rat never reaches their island. At present, there is no wharf for ships to dock at Atiu Harbour, making the introduction of the Ship Rat less likely.

The people of Rimatara are to be commended for loving their bird so much, they were willing to give 27 away, in order to save the species from extinction.

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