Hihi conservation in New Zealand

Reintroduction biology is a rapidly growing scientific discipline, and reintroduction programmes generally attract substantial interest from the wider conservation community.

Although reintroductions are attractive and highly visible conservation actions, they suffer low success. This is partly because reintroduction projects are not designed for learning, so it is not surprising that lessons are not learned or shared between projects.

Our hihi case study is different. Research moved away from a basic description framework, common in reintroduction biology, early in the species management. Instead, there has been a strong emphasis on planned research based on theoretical frameworks.

Hihi reintroductions have been undertaken for over 30 years and have always involved a considerable scientific contribution. This makes the hihi case study rare in that it is built on, and backed up by, a solid scientific base. As such it provides a powerful example of the strengths of evidence-based conservation and a structured approach to reintroduction biology.

Hihi project - map of New Zealand
There are now six populations of hihi in New Zealand

Why we are there

ZSL’s Institute of Zoology is closely involved in the hihi project and contributes a bulk of the scientific excellence used to inform management of this species. In addition, Dr John Ewen (IOZ) chairs the hihi recovery group.

Importantly the work not only benefits hihi but also has much wider global impact, through promoting structured and evidence-based approaches to reintroduction biology. 

Female hihi drinking
Female hihi drinking

Hihi recovery goals

Hihi declined from northern New Zealand in the early 1800s to become restricted to a single offshore island by about 1890. Beginning in 1980, an ongoing recovery program has aimed to increase hihi range and numbers using reintroduction.

Over 33 years the program has substantially changed from an “observe and recommend” approach to an evidence-based approach with explicit theory, focused monitoring and adaptive management.

This has resulted in increasing the number of populations to six and setting increasingly ambitious goals, such as reintroduction to the mainland and community-based management that is informed by good research.

Goal 1: Identify sites favourable to the establishment of unmanaged or managed hihi populations and reintroduce hihi to these.

Goal 2: Optimize management required to allow re-introduced hihi populations to persist in otherwise unsuitable habitats.

Goal 3: Develop a strategy for ongoing exchanges among hihi populations to ensure genetic viability while managing disease transmission risks.

Goal 4: Foster a unified national approach to hihi management.

Male hihi
Male hihi

Key achievements

  • Five reintroduced populations spread across the northern half of New Zealand (3x mainland restoration sites and 2x offshore islands).
  • Reintroduced population on Tiritiri Matangi island celebrated 20 years in 2015.
  • First reintroduction to mainland New Zealand (to Zealandia Sanctuary in Wellington) celebrated 10 years in 2015.
  • Planning underway for another reintroduction to a new mainland site in early 2017.
  • Eight PHD projects affiliated to ZSL’s Institute of Zoology on the hihi project.

Find out more: www.hihiconservation.com

Project information

Key Species

Hihi, or stitchbird, Notiomystis cincta

The hihi is an endemic passerine listed as Nationally Endangered by New Zealand’s (NZ) Department of Conservation (DOC) (Miskelly et al., 2008, Notornis).

People involved

Project manager: Dr John Ewen

Key staff include: Dr Patricia Brekke

Partners & Sponsors

Partners: New Zealand Department of Conservation, Massey University, University of Cambridge, University of Auckland.

Sponsors: New Zealand Department of Conservation

News & Blog links

Website www.hihiconservation.com

Twitter @hihinews