The thought of going to New Zealand to speak with aviculturists was very exciting. I did, however, have pictures in my mind of what I expected these people and their aviaries to look like. After all, New Zealand has not allowed the irnportation of exotic birds for many years and I expected that aviculture in this country must consist of mostly Cockatiels and Budgies. I was wrong. Their aviaries displayed beautiful Australian parrots, some of which we rarely see here in the United States, and there were conures, Indian parakeets, and Indonesian species as well. But the highlight of the tours were the native New Zealand parrots that could be found in many of the aviaries permitted to keep them. This is a luxury not afforded to aviculturists here in the United States. We are not permitted to keep birds that are native to the United States.
I arrived in Wellington, New Zealand after about 36 hours of traveling. Of course my luggage went on to ChristChurch, a city located on the South Island. It appears that someone with matching luggage, matching mine that is, took my suitcase through customs and on to their final destination.
Two days without a change of clothing or the slide shows that I had prepared put me into a slightly stressed state of mind. But not too stressed to enjoy the hospitality and kindness of the people in this countty.
After the airlines tracked my bag and delivered it to the home where I was staying, we prepared ourselves and departed for the South Island where the conference was to take place. The conference reminded me of the "good ol' days" of aviculture in the United States. By this I mean there were bird breeders, fanciers, avian veterinarians, supply vendors, behaviorists, pathologists, and government employed biologists present. A nice mixture of people all interested in one thing: keeping birds. The unity that is so important in aviculture still seems to be present in New Zealand. It was rather refreshing to see everyone together in one conference. I looked hard but didn't see any signs of "snobbery" among the participants. Everyone seemed to be there to learn and to communicate with each other. This is a lesson we could all profit from.
The conference went well. There . were lectures on finches, parrots,
native birds, conservation programs, disease and parasite determination, and much more. Each day offered an array of things to do and scheduled social events for the evenings. I must say that I was ve1y impressed with the unity and the organization at this meeting.
One of the most exciting things to see was the attendance of government biologists from the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC). These people are equivalent to our Federal level officers of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I will admit that there are a few problems that need to he solved between the keepers of the native birds and the DOC people, but, people from DOC did attend and conversation did take place between them and the aviculturists.
I feel confident that DOC will see the benefit of allowing their New Zealand aviculturists to breed the native parrots that the government is so interested in. In this way, and unlike the United States, the expertise to save these birds will he preserved in the aviaries of their own people. New Zealand will be one step ahead when habitat destruction forces another of their native birds toward extinction and they will not have to waste time learning the captive breeding biology
of these birds. My hat goes off to a government that realizes the importance of aviculture as it relates to saving the wild populations. I was very envious and had considered applying for citizenship right there at the conference.
During the conference I was invited by the New Zealand Department of Conservation to go to one of the government owned islands and take a look at a segment of the "Kakapo Recovery Program." Needless to say, I was excited over the prospect of seeing a live Kakapo. That is until I heard that I had to take a boat to the island. Boats and I never really did get along.
But, off to the dock I went and things worked out just fine. I hardly even noticed the 60 kilometer boat ride up through the sound because of the beautiful mountains, native forests, millions of jelly fish, and even a few penguins swimming along the way.
We arrived at Maud Island on Tuesday morning. This island is an uninhabited refuge for some of New Zealand's rare and wonderful birds. Only two houses exist on the entire island, both of which were used by the DOC personnel that were assigned to monitor the birds.
As I got off the boat I could feel the difference between this habitat and that of the islands with public access. It was a refreshing feeling coupled with a slight anxiety as to whether or not I had the right to invade this private space that was set aside for the birds. Too late to look back, the only way out was to get back in that boat and I wasn't about to do that for at least a day or two.
The atmosphere was peaceful, quiet, and isolated. The only sounds to be heard were the calls of the many different birds that roamed free throughout the bush. I was left alone for many hours to await the arrival of the young man who lived in the lodge and took care of the Kakapo on the island. He was to arrive by late evening. His assistant was off in the bush setting traps for rats or stoats that might have managed to swim to the island but as far as anyone knew, the island was completely predator free and the DOC made sure it stayed that way.