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The Haast tokoeka is a subspecies of the Southern brown kiwi, a flightless bird endemic to New Zealand. It is one of the rarest and most endangered kiwi, with an estimated population of less than 500 individuals. It is named after the Haast region in the South Island, where it inhabits the mountainous forests of the Southern Alps. Tokoeka literally means 'weka with a walking stick' (Ngāi Tahu).
Description[edit | edit source]
The Haast tokoeka is the largest of the brown kiwi subspecies, with males weighing up to 3.3 kg and females up to 4.2 kg. It has dark brown feathers with reddish-brown streaks and a long, curved bill. It is nocturnal and secretive, spending most of the day in burrows or hollow logs. It has a loud, high-pitched call that can be heard up to 5 km away.
Behavior and ecology[edit | edit source]
The Haast tokoeka is monogamous and territorial, forming long-term pairs that defend an area of about 50 ha. It feeds mainly on invertebrates, such as worms, beetles, spiders, and snails, but also occasionally on fruits, seeds, and fungi. It has a low reproductive rate, laying one or two eggs per year in a shallow nest under vegetation or in a hollow log. The male incubates the egg for about 80 days, while the female forages and defends the territory.
The Haast tokoeka has a unique social structure among kiwi. Some populations in Fiordland and on Stewart Island live in family groups, with an alpha male and female and their offspring staying in the territory for up to seven years. The young kiwi help with incubation by sitting on the egg for a short time each day. This allows the breeding pair to have two clutches per season.
Conservation[edit | edit source]
The Haast tokoeka is classified as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List, due to habitat loss, predation by introduced mammals, such as stoats, dogs, cats, and possums, and genetic isolation. The main threats are stoats, which kill up to 95% of the chicks before they reach six months of age.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) has established the Haast Kiwi Sanctuary, covering 11,500 ha of the Haast ranges, where intensive predator control and monitoring are carried out. The DOC also runs Operation Nest Egg, a program that involves collecting eggs from the wild, hatching them in captivity, and releasing them back into predator-free areas when they are large enough to fend for themselves. These efforts have increased the survival rate of the chicks from 5% to 65%.
The DOC also works with local communities, landowners, iwi (Māori tribes), and conservation groups to raise awareness and support for the conservation of the Haast tokoeka. The kiwi is considered a taonga (treasure) by the Ngāi Tahu iwi, who are involved in the management and protection of the species.