Survival of five shore plovers – or tūturuatu – was at risk unless operation went ahead to take them to a predator-free island
A rare New Zealand bird has been evacuated to a remote island despite the strict coronavirus lockdown, with the high-risk mission “essential” to the survival of the species, conservationists say.
Despite stringent lockdown orders in place country-wide, as New Zealand battles Covid-19, five juvenile shore plovers – or tūturuatu – were flown from captivity in Christchurch to the remote, predator-free Mana Island off the coast of Wellington on Saturday.
The birds caught a near-empty Air New Zealand flight for the 450km journey, taking up full rows, and being monitored by cabin crew who have few human passengers to attend anymore.
A juvenile shore plover – or tūturuatu - in New Zealand, where it is critically endangered.Photograph: Dave Houston/Department of Conservation, New Zealand
Conservation minister Eugenie Sage said a lot of careful planning went into staging the operation.
“There are just 250 of these birds left in the world and these juveniles are a critical part of attempts to establish a self-sustaining population on the pest-free Mana Island so numbers can grow,” Sage said.
The journey of the critically threatened species – whose juveniles become violent if quarantined in small spaces for too long – was deemed “essential”, and stringent planning went into place to keep the birds and their human carers safe throughout the journey.
There are only 250tūturuatuleft in the country, with the population vulnerable to attack by predators such as rats, stoats and cats.