Helping to save beautiful Tanga’eo

Friday April 15, 2016 Written by Published in Outer Islands
The stunningly-coloured Mangaia Kingfisher faces plenty of threats in its natural environment. 16041524 The stunningly-coloured Mangaia Kingfisher faces plenty of threats in its natural environment. 16041524

This weekly column, supplied by Te Ipukarea Society, looks at environmental issues confronting the Cook Islands and the world.

The Mangaia Kingfisher (Todiramphus ruficollaris) is a stunningly beautiful “chunky” kingfisher that lives only on the island of Mangaia, Cook Islands.

Its local name is Tanga’eo – which is named so because of the sound of its call. It is rated as “vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) but with less than 500 left, a catastrophic cyclone or fire on Mangaia could see its status shift to endangered or worse.

There are plenty of other threats to the bird. These include the common myna which competes with it for food and has been known to harass nursing birds. Cats and rats and habitat degradation, in part due to the impact of goats and pigs, add to the potential uncertainty for this small single population of vulnerable birds.

As it does in so many countries, the Aage V Jensen Charity Foundation of Denmark is assisting in work aimed at making the Tanga’eo less vulnerable, as part of a wider BirdLife Pacific project.

With the Jensen support, BirdLife Cook Island’s partner Te-Ipukarea-Society (TIS) is aiming to establish a site support group on the 5200 hectare island, develop a community-led management plan and, with the community, raise awareness to help ensure that the crucial habitat of the Mangaia Kingfisher remains intact.

In February a TIS team visited the island and surveyed the known kingfisher habitat and talked with the local community.

From day one, the TIS team conducted field research into known Tanga’eo habitats, and it was not long before they saw the birds and became accustomed to their call. This was made much easier than it could have been, because of the help of an experienced field worker Allan Tuara, who has family ties to the island.

They were able to visit all the key areas and collect a good amount of photo and video footage of the birds. This footage will be made into a documentary to help promote the conservation of the Tanga’eo. The other key aim of the visit was to talk with the local community and raise the awareness of the threatened status of the Tanga’eo.

The team visited Mangaia College and conducted interviews with selected junior and senior school students to gauge what they knew about their special bird.

Three of the team went on Mangaia TV to talk about their recent activities on the island and explain some of the other work that TIS does for the Cook Islands.

The team are now working on producing the Tanga’eo documentary which is to be aired on national TV in the coming months, bringing the plight of the kingfisher and the efforts to save it to a much wider audience.

Growing the community awareness of the unique kingfisher is a key part of the longer term plan to ensure its future. The people of Mangaia have responded by opening up the entire island for Tanga’eo research and also for providing hospitality to the researchers.

As with all conservation in the Pacific, saving the threatened species of the region depends on local BirdLife partners working with the local communities to appreciate the special natural treasures and joining together to protect them and the key habitat on which they depend. 

And the support of generous donors like the Aage V Jensen Charity Foundation, supporting nature all across the world. 

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