Mystery over weka found at Brighton

Alli Cunningham holds a weka near the spot where she hit it while driving in McIntosh Rd, in...
Alli Cunningham holds a weka near the spot where she hit it while driving in McIntosh Rd, in Brighton, on Sunday. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
The Department of Conservation in Dunedin has a weka mystery on its hands.

A woman hit a weka in her car in Brighton, raising the possibility a remnant population of the threatened native species is living in the city outskirts.

Weka, a flightless bird species of the rail family, were not thought to live in the area, with pests and habitat destruction driving them out of most of their former South Island habitat.

Brighton resident Alli Cunningham said she was driving along McIntosh Rd on Sunday afternoon when the weka jumped on to the road and was hit by her car, dying on impact.

"It flew out of the long grass, and I thought 'oh, a chicken'. I checked if it was dead ... and I thought 'that's no chicken'."

She then contacted Doc biodiversity assets programme manager David Agnew, before collecting the bird and taking it into Doc's Dunedin office yesterday morning.

Mr Agnew said the fact one weka had been found raised the possibility of a remnant population in the area's native bush.

Another possibility was the bird had been illegally moved.

There was also a possibility it was a buff weka from Stevensons Island in Lake Wanaka, but that was unlikely because of the distance it would have had to have travelled.

Adding to the mystery, the weka was in "pretty good condition", indicating it was well fed.

If someone had transported the bird to the area, Mr Agnew said he would be keen to have a chat with them to "resolve this mystery". Doc would also appreciate members of the public coming forward if they had seen a weka in the area.

University of Otago senior zoology lecturer Bruce Robertson said it would be a big surprise if weka were living in the area, given the pressure from predators, such as feral cats and possums.

If there was a population in the area, it was possible they could be genetically different from other wekas, which could be good for the whole species.

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