Letting people harvest New Zealand’s protected wood pigeon can create a win-win outcome for all, says conservationist Len Gillman.
For centuries, Māori carefully managed and harvested kererū as an important food source.
As kaitiaki (environmental guardians), communities will place a rāhui (temporary ban) on specific animals or plants if numbers get too low, to allow them to recover. This mātauranga Māori (indigenous knowledge) dates back to well before conservation existed as a field of science.
Yet Māori can no longer do this for kererū, as they – and others – have been banned altogether from hunting the bird.
There is a long history of disagreements between Māori and Europeans over kererū*. In the 1880s, they clashed over hunting season times because Māori needed to harvest fattened winter kererū for food, but Europeans wanted to hunt leaner, faster birds in early autumn as a challenging sport. Eventually the Government rolled out a complete hunting ban on most native birds in the 1920s, due to declining numbers.
But this ban has not helped kererū recover, while Māori are still being denied a treasure that the Treaty of Waitangi states they should have access to. The ban also means that Māori are now losing valuable ancestral knowledge about this bird, because they are no longer using it.
Len Gilman, Professor of Biogeography and head of science at AUT University, believes he has the solution.
With kind permission (ngā mihi nui ki a koe, Len), I’ve re-posted his original piece from the New Zealand Herald below:
We have a seemingly intractable conflict of ideas on our hands when it comes to the native wood pigeon or kererū. But are New Zealand’s opposing attitudes to kererū really so irreconcilable? Sustainable harvesting could satisfy everyone’s needs – a stance that many might consider surprising, coming from an avid conservationist.
The kererū is a native New Zealand species protected under legislation, but despite this protection it has continued to decline in abundance since European colonisation. As an iconic native species, it is treasured by many Māori and Pākehā as something that must be preserved at all costs.
However as a taonga (cultural treasure), tangata whenua are guaranteed full possession of kererū under the Treaty of Waitangi. Full possession implies ongoing rights of harvest, and so many assert that the Treaty imparts a right to harvest the bird in spite of legislation to the contrary.
Sustainable harvesting could provide the solution to the conflict that we have recently seen highlighted by the prosecution of Ngāpuhi leader Sonny Tau for killing five birds and by last year’s revelation that kererū had been served to three ministers of the Crown and 40 iwi leaders at a marae in 2013.
The main cause of kererū decline is predation and competition from mammalian pests, not hunting, and controlling these pests with natural poisons such as 1080 has been shown to promote their recovery. With ongoing predator control, populations increase until they reach a point where, limited by resources, surviving fledglings entering the local population roughly equal those leaving the population due to emigration and mortality.
When a population reaches stability, small harvests can be made without affecting the total number of birds, because those removed by harvest allow more fledglings to survive. This concept is known as a sustainable harvest – it allows a small ongoing harvest without affecting the size of the population. Harvesting quotas would need to be based on kererū numbers and age distributions, considering young birds learn survival skills from older birds, but sustainable harvesting holds great promise.
Associated legislation and scientific monitoring could empower iwi to sustainably harvest kererū, by managing areas for pests and demonstrating that bird populations are healthy. In such areas, kererū could be maintained with substantially greater numbers than occur now. There would be more kererū, satisfying conservation objectives. Meanwhile tangata whenua would have an important cultural activity returned to them – allowing for the continuation of their mātauranga Māori, via interaction with this taonga species, as guaranteed under the Treaty of Waitangi.
Combining scientific techniques such as population viability analysis with Māori ways of doing (tikanga) provides opportunities to not only manage taonga species into the future but also to develop co-management strategies that engage Māori in science and scientists in mātauranga Māori.
The increasing number of young Māori studying conservation and ecology at universities is providing the necessary skill base for such an initiative. With iwi and scientists in control and co-managing this activity, I believe there would be little tolerance or appetite for illegal poaching of birds.
* Reference: Basil Keane. Te tāhere manu – bird catching – History of bird catching, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.