(Story & photo: Liz Brooker)
The proposal for an iwi-led Eco-Sanctuary at Pōkākā in the Ruapehu district was put before the community on Monday in Raetihi at the first of a number of planned stakeholder hui.
In an effort to revitalise and restore part of the ancestral estate, Uenuku Charitable Trust has developed the concept for a major conservation and restoration project at a site adjacent to the Makatote viaduct. A feasibility study into the proposal has begun.
Uenuku chair Aiden Gilbert said: “In exploring our aspirations for Treaty settlement and our future, this project seeks to keep our ngahere intact along with adding value, supporting and complementing what’s already in place.
“The vast majority of our lands are currently tied up in DOC [Department of Conservation] estate through a number of conservation blocks including the Tongariro and Whanganui National Parks.
“If feasible, the eco-sanctuary would help to provide us a connection back to the lands where we once had kaitiakitanga. It’s going to be no easy task but a small way we can also add value to the pest-free vision for Aotearoa.”
Leading wildlife ecologist John Innes, from Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, is excited to see Māori take the lead in exploring opportunities for a major New Zealand conservation management project.
“The involvement of iwi in this project is fantastic. We know they have an enormous commitment to the land and across the whole gambit of threatened species recovery their growing involvement is probably the single most exciting thing happening at the moment.
“The significant thing about this site is there are already really high wildlife values in the forest around it and it’s already being managed for conservation.
“This means it’s entirely consistent with the current land use, and being adjacent to State Highway 4 there is also an enormous tourism opportunity to interface with the public that doesn’t exist in back-country sanctuaries.”
In exploring the feasibility of the project, ecologist Jo Ritchie from Natural Logic Environmental Management said the proposal aims to re-establish large bird populations.
“There are already brown kiwi, kākā, kārearea (falcon), whio, yellow-crowned kākāriki (parakeet), titipounamu (rifleman) and pekapeka (long-tailed bats) in the area.
“Some of these species are highly endangered or seen in extremely low numbers so, by controlling or ideally eradicating pests, an opportunity could be developed to reintroduce missing species and encourage further recovery of remnant species including the kōkako, tītī (mutton bird), whio and kiwi.”