Cook Islands Natural Heritage Trust director Gerald McCormack says that since 2009. George Mateariki, known to most as “Birdman George,” has been working on the project to reduce myna harassment of 23 kura (rimatara lorikeets) which had been reintroduced to the island.
And the project has been a major success, because at the last count, it seems there may only be seven mynas left on Atiu.
“At the start it was estimated that there were around 6,000 mynas on Atiu,” says McCormack.
“The project started with George using stations of toxic rice and residents using traditional traps for a bounty.”
The toxin used was Starlicide which kills humanely and is rapidly degraded, he says.
However over a year later it was obvious the myna could not be eradicated by poisoning and local trapping, alone.
The Atiu Island Council was keen for the project to eradicate the myna and in November 2010, Jason Tuara was employed as the main shooter, supported by Dan O'Brien, Kevin Greaves and Dave Tuoro.
However, as myna numbers declined, poisoning became more difficult.
In January 2013 the Spanish myna trapper, Susana Saavedra introduced George to trapping with drop-door traps, each containing a decoy myna.
Over the course of the six-year project residents eradicated about 3,000 mynas. The shooters have gunned down about 10,000, and Birdman George has trapped about 2,000.
The number of mynas eradicated by poisoning is difficult to estimate but it is probably about 10,000, says McCormack.
After his last visit to Atiu at the start of this month, main shooter Jason Tuara believes there may only be five mynas left on the island.
That number might not be totally accurate, as island resident Roger Malcolm says that based on the drop in sightings, there may be actually seven.
To undertake the project the Cook Islands National Heritage Trust had support from Conservation International, Air Rarotonga, Atiu Villas and the National Environment Service.