The discovery of new wild specimens of the incredibly rare ngutukākā/kākābeak has sparked new hope for the species.
Ngutukākā, with bright red flowers reminiscent of the beaks of kākā, may be iconic but earlier this year only 123 individual plants were known to exist in the wild. The species is Threatened – Nationally Critical, the highest threat ranking.
In September, goat culler Wayne Looney was carrying out pest control on a Pāmu (formerly known as Landcorp) farm in the Wairoa region when he spotted the plant across a gully. He reported the sighting to Pāmu and the Department of Conservation (DOC).
“Ngutukākā is a difficult species to protect in the wild because it’s on the menu for so many introduced pests, and just can’t keep up with them. With such a small population base, this discovery could mean a lot for the species and it brings us real hope,” says DOC Biodiversity Ranger Helen Jonas.
Although ngutukākā flowers make them an attractive plant for gardens, habitat loss and pests like goats, deer and introduced snails have placed them at risk of extinction in the wild.
This discovery increases the known genetic diversity of the species. Many wild populations are small and isolated, and management across these populations can help ensure robustness and disease resistance in the wild ngutukākā population.
“It looks like four plants have been there for a while, though it’s hard to be sure as their stems are tangled together. The plants are absolutely loaded with flowers, so there should be lots of seed to come and a good seedbank in the ground. Seed can last up to 20 years. Providing deer and goats can be kept off it, we should see seedlings here in the future,” says Helen Jonas.
DOC has taken seeds to grow, which will allow more seed to be harvested and eventually returned to the wild. A few seeds have been kept in storage.
Pāmu is excited to have found this rare plant on one of their farms, says Pāmu Environment Manager Gordon Williams.
“We are committed to fencing the site and placing the wider surrounding area under a QEII covenant area to provide long term protection,” he says.
“Immediate protection from species like goats and deer will continue with a commitment to the same kind of pest control work that led to the ngutukākā discovery, for the foreseeable future.”
DOC’s Helen Jonas says conservation is something that depends on multiple people to be a success, and this is a prime example.
“We’re incredibly grateful to people like Wayne, who’re passionate about the outdoors and let us know about any unique species they spot. Staff at Pāmu are just as excited as us about this small but valuable discovery. This wonderful discovery gives us the chance to learn about ngutukākā and do more to protect them.”