Study of kea strike starts

Clio Reid wants to help prevent sheep being attacked by kea - and kea being shot.

Ms Reid is seeking help from farmers in a study of sheep and kea that she is conducting as part of her PhD through the Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences at Massey University.

They were encouraged to take part in a survey to find out the extent of kea strike on South Island high country sheep stations.

Kea strike was discovered in the Wakatipu area in the 1860s, with a legal government bounty initiated in the same decade which resulted in an estimated 150,000 kea killed up until the early 1970s.

Kea were slow to reproduce and the effects of the bounty eventually had a ''big impact'', with the birds now endangered.

Numbers were estimated at between 1000 and 5000 and Ms Reid reckoned there were about 3000 or fewer.

One of the problems was as there was a lack of formal scientific information, there was a lot of ''mythology'' and she was convinced that some people thought that all kea attacked sheep.

But there was a theory that only a few individual birds attacked sheep, something that farmers consistently told her.

Kea strike was not easy to observe. It seemed to happen in the middle of winter, in the mountains, at night. Catching the birds doing it was ''really, really tricky''.

But farmers had a ''pretty good idea'' of what was happening on their properties, which was why she was seeking their help.

The information would be used to help farmers reduce harm to sheep caused by kea. Overall results would be made available to farmers and they would also be made available to conservation managers and published in a scientific journal.

Ms Reid was interested in the issues faced by farmers when kea were present on their farms and had completed a study measuring kea/sheep interactions, which involved checking sheep for kea scars at shearing.

Her background research on the topic had uncovered problems faced by farmers overseas when bird species attacked their livestock, including in the Falkland Islands, the southern United States, and Africa.

She needed surveys from as many farmers as possible to get the most accurate idea of the current kea strike situation.

Even if farmers did not see kea, or they were present but did not cause problems, it was important they completed the survey, she said.

She hoped to have her research work completed in about a year.

 

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