Conservation of kakerori (Pomarea dimidiata) in the Cook Islands in 2005/06

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Conservation of kakerori (Pomarea dimidiata) in the Cook Islands in 2005/06

In 1989, the kakerori (Pomarea dimidiata) was one of the ten rarest bird species in the world, with a declining population of just 29 birds in the Takitumu Conservation Area (TCA) of southeastern Rarotonga. As a result of conservation management, the kakerori population rebounded, with up to 300 birds being recorded on Rarotonga and Atiu in 2004/05. The southern Cook Islands was, however, hit by five tropical cyclones over a 4-week period in February–March 2005, and much of the forest on exposed faces, spurs and ridges (traditional kakerori habitat) was severely damaged. The population survived remarkably well, with a minimum of 274 adults known to be alive in the TCA in August 2005. An additional 17 adults were found on Atiu between August 2005 and March 2006. The main\ casualties of the cyclones on Rarotonga appeared to be young birds (1–3 years old) and very old birds (> 20 years old). Because the population on Rarotonga remained well within the management target of 250–300 individuals, rat poisoning was again done fortnightly, as in the previous 2 years. Breeding productivity was exceptionally poor in 2005/06, mainly because of nesting failures or early fledgling deaths caused by abnormally wet conditions during the main fledging periods. Nests were more exposed to the elements because the cyclones had extensively defoliated the canopy. Furthermore, rats were often seen foraging during the day, apparently struggling to find food (few trees were fruiting). Only 22 fledglings were definitely seen in 2005/06; however, some territories were not checked or poorly checked during the breeding season, and some fledglings may have dispersed to better vegetated sites. We recommend that rat control should return to the weekly poisoning regime used during the 1989–2001 recovery phase of the kakerori management programme if the August 2006 census reveals that the population has fallen below 220 birds (a 20% decline from pre-cyclone levels). Otherwise the regime of the sustainable management phase (fortnightly poisoning) should continue.

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