Orokonui conservation manager Elton Smith releases one of
50 saddlebacks in the sanctuary yesterday. Photo by Linda
Fifty saddlebacks arrived safely at the Orokonui
Ecosanctuary yesterday after a journey by boat and helicopter
that began on Tuesday.
The birds arrived from Breaksea Island in Fiordland where
hundreds of the species exist.
The arrival had been planned for two years.
Sanctuary conservation manager Elton Smith released the first
32 birds at 4.30pm and was pleased to see they did not shy
away from the many onlookers.
Mr Smith, who accompanied the birds from Fiordland, said the
trip had been stressful for him and the birds, and he
expected some of the birds would have died during the trip.
''They've had a really intense time and I won't guarantee
every single bird here will be alive.
''They've had a tough time so be prepared for a few deaths.''
To everyone's delight, in the 16 cages opened, each bird
survived the trip. The remaining cages would be opened and
the 18 birds measured and tagged before release. Each cage
held two saddlebacks.
Ian Jamieson, of the zoology department at the sanctuary,
said yesterday was ''the moment they had all been waiting
for'' the past two years.
The birds had not been on the mainland since the 1990s, and
Mr Jamieson said it was anyone's guess how they would adapt
at the sanctuary.
It was important for their survival that each bird remained
inside the fenced area.
''If they fly over the fence, they're not going to make it,''
It was too early to know the gender ratio of the 50 birds,
but breeding season would begin in less than a month.
If the birds mated, it would take 21 days for the eggs to be
released and a further 20 for them to hatch. Orokonui general
manager Chris Baillie said yesterday was one of the biggest
moments in Mr Smith's career and the sanctuary's existence.
''This is an awesome moment.''