He said the loss of forest cover and species on the islands were probably due to intensified de-velopment and the introduction of new pests such as ants, ship rats (Kioretoka) and cats, which accompanied the arrival of Europeans to the Cook Islands.
“Here on Rarotonga we have the Kakerori or Rarotonga Flycatcher bird. This is a small bird which strangely begins life as bright orange before turning grey at around three years of age,” Kokaua said.
“These birds also have an unusual lifespan of up to 24 years or longer, which is rare for a tiny bird. For many years, it was thought the Kakerori had become extinct, until it was rediscovered in the 1970s.
“We have many endangered species throughout the Cook Islands and most birds, such as the Kura or “Rimatara Lorikeet” which was extinct in the Cook Islands until it was reintroduced to Atiu from Rimatara in 2007, it is classified as endangered.
“But we also have a number of other endangered species such as plants (such as the Mitiaro Fan-Palm and Te Manga Cyrtandra), fish, corals and even snails.”
He confirmed that the majority of the Cook Islands species had already been lost over the past 200 years.
Kokaua said education programs conducted at schools and villages could play a significant role in changing mind-sets.
“The main things people can do to look after our endangered species, is firstly to learn about which species are endangered and which ones are located near you.
“Secondly, try to keep rat and feral cat populations down, especially if you live near the forest, as these non-native animals kill native wildlife. Thirdly, you should support non-government or-ganisation groups such as Takitumu Conservation Area, and TIS who are always working to pro-tect our endemic and native biodiversity.”
He said everyone had a role to pay in conserving the environment.
“The environment is very important to all of us. No matter what your career is or your place in society, we all live in the same environment and are a part of nature.
“A healthy environment means healthy people, and there are no real shortcuts to living in an environmentally friendly way: it takes a bit of work in educating yourself and your family and changing your habits, but it’s good to start off small.”