Prisoners at Otago Corrections Facility are partnering with Department of Conservation (DOC) Te Manahuna/Twizel District rangers to help save the nationally critical kaki/black stilt.

“We are excited about the opportunity to utilise prisoner carpentry and engineering expertise and work with DOC on the captive breeding programme for the kaki,” says Otago Corrections Facility Manager Industries Wayne Young.

Under the Corrections and Department of Conservation Good to Grow partnership, offenders’ carpentry, engineering, horticulture and painting skills are utilised to support a wide range of conservation projects across the country. These projects provide prisoners with qualifications and work opportunities to reduce re-offending while also protecting and preserving New Zealand’s environment and native wildlife.

“For the past three years, prisoners working and training in prison industries have produced a wide range of products for DOC as part of our Good to Grow partnership. This is an exciting extension to this work.”

The prison has so far built 18 specialist transport boxes and offered to build more brooding and rearing equipment to support DOC staff working to safeguard the species.

The kaki/black stilt is one of the world’s rarest wading birds with fewer than 110 adults. The non-migratory stilt lives in the harsh environment of the South Island’s Mackenzie Basin riverbeds all year.

As only a third of birds survive to adulthood, DOC staff are providing intensive intervention once the birds are old enough to breed by taking eggs from nests and raising the stilt chicks until they turn nine months. The birds are then returned to their native habitat.

“Many years ago, kaki/black stilt were found right across New Zealand, but changes to their habitat, including the draining of wetlands and the impact of introduced predators such as cats, ferrets, stoats, hawks and black backed gulls, have taken their toll on numbers,” says DOC Works Officer, Ronan Grew.

“I’m excited to be working with Otago Corrections Facility” says Ronan, “and that we have been able to draw on prisoners’ engineering and carpentry expertise to help with the kaki/black stilt captive breeding programme.”

“The new prison-built transport boxes are now in Geraldine and will be taken through to Twizel early next week,” says Ronan. “DOC Twizel staff are looking forward to receiving them. This breeding season is turning out to be a record breaker, so the more transport boxes they have the better.”

Through the MoU, building materials are provided by DoC or through donations from external philanthropist organisations, with Corrections providing the design and build expertise. DOC and volunteers then deploy the products.

The old aviary collapsed in 2015 and this has severely impacted on the DOC team’s ability to rear large numbers of kaki/black stilt.

In July 2017, the US-based conservation non-profit trust Global Wildlife Conservation made a significant contribution to replace the previous 6-bay aviary with a larger 10-bay building so DOC can boost its captive breeding programme. The new aviary has just been completed and the first of this season’s chicks are now enjoying their new flight aviary.

Further discussions are also underway around the design and build of mat racks for brooder units and bin trolleys for housing the young chicks.

The wider project is still developing with Ronan and his team finalising the design of the new brooder facilities.