Hoiho's big win 'bittersweet' for bird's champions

A member of the species newly crowned Bird of the Year is fed by veterinary intern Lizzie Thomas...
A member of the species newly crowned Bird of the Year is fed by veterinary intern Lizzie Thomas at the Dunedin Wildlife Hospital. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH.
A tiny, fluffy member of the newly crowned Bird of the Year species was both chirpy and hungry at the Dunedin Wildlife Hospital yesterday.

Its rescue 13 days ago from the Otago Peninsula is just one example of the work desperately needed to save the world's rarest penguin, which its advocates hope will pick up with yesterday's win.

But the urgency of the work needed has been highlighted by University of Otago academics, who say the win for a species in serious decline is "bittersweet''.

The hoiho, the bird supported by both former Dunedin mayor Dave Cull and incumbent Aaron Hawkins, won the STV election, beating its closest competitor, the kakapo.

It was the first win for a seabird in the competition's 14-year history, after 43,460 votes were cast.

The hoiho's nests numbered only 225 last year, and just 162 this year.

It faces numerous threats, including warming oceans leading to changes in food availability, bottom trawling damaging feeding grounds, being caught in fishing nets, and disturbance from humans.

Dunedin city councillor and wildlife hospital trust chairman Steve Walker was overjoyed with the win.

Cr Walker has been active on social media in support of Team Hoiho, a group of conservationists, science communicators and students who pushed for the hoiho to win the Forest & Bird competition.

He hoped the extra publicity could help attract funding to save the bird.

Mayor Aaron Hawkins said it was "great to get some good news'' after a weekend of fires.

Mr Hawkins said to outsiders it might seem Bird of the Year was taken too seriously, and campaigning had become more sophisticated recently.

However, the real message from the competition was many species were under threat.

The win would help shine a spotlight on the hoiho, "so that we can think a bit more about how we can assure its survival''.

University of Otago zoologists Prof Phil Seddon and Assoc Prof Yolanda van Heezik, welcomed a spotlight on the ``dire state'' of the mainland hoiho population.

Assoc Prof van Heezik said no one thing would turn the situation around.

However, she wanted to see more regulation to stop by-catch in the fishing industry, although she recognised that was a difficult political decision that would affect the livelihood of fishers.

"We feel that's one thing we can actually can manage.''

Bottom trawling had disturbed the seabed, which affected the hoiho's food supply.

"It's not something that's easily fixed, but we should be having marine protected areas put in place.''

At the wildlife hospital, the hoiho chick was being fed fish smoothies to get it back to its optimal weight.

Once it was big enough it would be moved to Penguin Place to be socialised with other birds, then released into the wild.




A big thanks goes out to the New Mayor of Dunedin without his lordship and his student followers this would not have been possible, Thank you for making the call out to the students of Dunedin again.

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