This article was published by the Department of Conservation for CONSERVATION WEEK .
Department of Conservation Twizel staff using aircraft to track Kaki (Black Stilts) in the Mackenzie Basin.
Alex Miller has been flying aeroplanes for over thirty years and is part owner and CEO of Mount Cook Ski Planes. Based at Franz Josef, Alex worked closely with the West Coast DOC rangers to design his specially outfitted Cessna used for tracking radio signals. A radio aerial is firmly attached on the underside of each plane wing. The plane mounted system was developed over four years ago, primarily for tracking kiwi in dense West Coast bush.
“I wanted to put something back into conservation and this is one way our company can contribute. I think a lot of operators are privileged to be able to work in our wilderness areas so as a commercial operator we decided to develop this plane mounted aerial tracking system to help the kiwi recovery programme.” said Alex Miller.
For the first time, all kaki released in the Mackenzie Basin are now wearing backpack transmitters purchased with generous sponsorship from the local Mount Cook Hotel Collection chain. The transmitters emit a signal over a distance of 4 km and while most of the time the rangers search for missing kaki on foot, taking to the Mackenzie skies once a month certainly speeds up the searching process.
On this occasion DOC Rangers Dave Murray and Simon Stevenson meet up with Alex Miller at Aoraki/Mt Cook airport under glorious sunny skies. Five minutes after take-off the first signal is picked up in the Tasman River bed. Alex continues flying and the plane tracks over Lakes Pukaki, Tekapo, Benmore and up into the Ahuriri, Hopkins and Dobson Valleys.
After a couple of hours flying seven missing kaki are found with their positions identified on the GPS mapping system. For the Kaki Recovery Programme it has been a successful flight. Every live kaki located is crucial to the bird’s continued existence with endangered kaki numbering less than 200 within New Zealand. A survivor of over one million years and once commonly spread throughout the country, the kaki is now only resident in the Mackenzie Basin.
Thank you to Dave Murray and Simon Stevenson, DOC Twizel for these images.