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Watch a presentation on kea conservation

Kea are mountain parrots. They are going extinct and need help from volunteers to save them. Watch Emma explain more.
Hi, everyone. Good to be up here. And fantastic just hearing the speakers so far. I’m just going to continue on about the lead information, and really add onto what’s already been said by Pauline, and also talking about the community efforts to actually remove lead from the environment. But I think, second to predation events, lead poisoning, we’re finding, is really having a massive toll on our kea population right across the South Island. And that’s because lead is pretty much everywhere across the South island. So just to give you a bit of background on lead. I’m not going to go into the science of it. Pauline’s already done that. So this is fantastic. So it’s a highly toxic heavy metal.
And we know from other studies that it kills microorganisms in the soil, which of course slows right rate of decomposition in the environment. So it has an impact on a microscopic level. It also affects organisms further up the food chain. So invertebrated and plants. And it has an accumulative effect on species that actually feed on those other species.
In humans, it affects almost every organ in the system in the body. And it’s known to damage central nervous system– so brain function, immune system, kidneys, and liver, and also decreases fertility. So this is something right across all animal species. Um out of interest in the New Zealand building code, or drinking water must not be collected from roofs with uncoated lead flashings and nailheads. So that’s interesting, because a lot of the huts around here, around the conservation estate, we know probably do have exposed lead in them. And what we also know is that kea damaged lead products can potentially be leaching lead into those water supplies as well. So we don’t actually know how that’s impacting on human health.
There was a Ministry of Health study in 1996, which found lead entering school drinking water system via roof catchments. And they were roofs with lead nailheads and flashings in them. So it has been found to impact on human health already in New Zealand. There was a Royal Society study that was carried out on the huts in a conservation estate around the South Island. This was in collaboration with Unitec and also with ourselves. And it was found that lead was present in alpine buildings throughout kea habitat. And there’s also evidence of kea damage to lead in the majority of buildings that contain that lead. So this is just an example of some of the damage that kea were causing.
You can see, this is just lead flashing here, and it’s actually being pulled off by the kea. So it’s very easy to manipulate. Very easy to tear off and ingest. And it’s sweet to taste as well. So it’s highly interesting to the kea. And so therefore, they do interact with it. This is a lead nailhead. Same thing. But when the roofs heat up and cool down, just with winter snows and the heat from the sun, and the nails tend to lift off. And then, they make it very easily for the kea to access and roll back that lead and tear it off and ingest it. So lead is a threat to kea. We know that.
And there’ve been a lot of studies that have been carried out. So the Departure of Conservation started looking at that blood lead levels on kea in 2006. And they found that there were high levels of lead in kea throughout the species range wherever kea and humans overlap. There was testing of kea in Mount Cook. There were 42 kea were tested, and all of them had detectable blood lead levels in them, and 32 were considered elevated. So this is really concerning– considering that this isn’t the only site. So this is a picture that Corey actually took of juvenile kea. You can see the yellow on them up on a roof in the Mount Cook village.
And you can see that it had a lot of lead in those roofs.
So um there are a lot of impacts on kea that are the same as in humans as well. So a lot of neurological damage, organ failure, and eventually death. Not necessarily directly from the lead itself causing organ failure, but also from the secondary infection, starvation, predation. Because of course, a kea that’s unable to think properly, it’s having issues with cognitive function, isn’t able to escape predators, and also ends up being hit by cars and having other situations occur. We also don’t know how it affects their fertility. I don’t think there’ve actually been studies on fertility and kea, particularly when they have been exposed to a lot of lead.
This is um actually a picture of a kea that was treated by Pauline, I think, and Shannon? Yeah. Susan Shannon? Yeah. Pauline. So lead, as I said, is South Island wide. It’s right across high country areas, and areas where you wouldn’t actually think that kea were being impacted by humans in other ways. But they are impacted by lead in these areas. And it’s been present in dwellings prior the 1990s. So as soon as we started putting buildings in the environment from the Early-late 1800’s right through. So these have been in the environment for a long time. And they are having an impact as we know.
So these aren’t just conservation areas, but we also got residential and farm dwellings on private land. And we’ve also got public buildings, such as ski fields, which are riddled with lead. White bait huts down on the West Coast of the South Island. Old buildings that have been there for a long time. And abandoned mines– a lot of the time, we don’t actually know where they’re located anymore, and old dumps.
So what we really wanted to do was to actually set up a project which looked to decrease the pressure of lead to kea. And this is through activating the community. So we’ve actually put this proposal to a number of different funding organisations, The Department of Conservation as well. As yet, we haven’t had it picked up. But it’s something that’s actually just starting by itself of its own accord through the communities. And so, I wanted to put this out to you today so we can talk about it more tomorrow in the panel discussions. So what we wanted to do was to actually start testing the blood levels of kea throughout the South Island range.
So many of our at risk kea start turning up. So obviously, In Arthur’s Pass here. You’re getting birds that coming, and testing those birds, and then actually starting to get those birds to receive treatment. And that’s why actually getting the community involved and actually helping and treating those birds. So just to give you an idea, in Arthur’s Pass here, we started up a fund through our give a little page, just to help support the volunteers to take those birds down to Christchurch, so that they could actually get that lead treatment, and also to help with paying for some of those products that are needed.
And so, we actually want you to recognise that there is that fund there, and that they can come to us if they need it before. Also identifying source of lead in the environment and facilitating their removal. Some places like Arthur’s Pass there is a lot of old buildings here. And we do know that there are a lot of old buildings that do have lead flashings and nailheads. And I think, as a couple of those have been identified. And work is actually underway to remove those. And that’s community-facilitated. And then, replacing them with non-toxic alternatives. We’ve actually, in the past, been able to contact um PlaceMakers, I think it was down in Wanaka.
They actually provided some non-toxic alternatives that went out to Mount Aspiring. And lead was removed by community member, and the non-toxic alternatives were actually put on there. So it didn’t actually cost anything, other than, of course, a lot of time from people. And then, raising funds to support the community efforts. So if we can’t actually get this project up and running through sponsorship deals or a lot of bulk funding going into it. We still want to be able to grow it on a small scale to start with, and grow it up to a larger scale through using the community. So what community support do we have? Well, we know that when we’ve gone along to different community meeting.
So we do a winter tour every year. We’ve been doing it since 2008 now. We actually find that people are really keen to find out how they can be involved and contribute to kea conservation. Just a case of providing the means for them to be able to do that. So in 2015, we started a community kea programme. And the community expressed a desire and commitment to actually support their remnant local kea populations. So this project falls really neatly under there. So these actually are nine different areas here. And we’ve held meetings all through those areas. And I’ll talk more about that later on this afternoon.
So I’ll just give you a little example of what’s actually started up already with the removal of lead from the environment in that wider lead proposal. So the Haast community, Franz Josef, Queenstown, and Arthur’s Pass have already got activated on this particular project. Just to as the birds that are coming in. So what’s been happening is, birds are being identified. In the Haast area, we actually had the Department of Conservation was catching up with the police, because actually the bids were breaking and entering into houses. [LAUGHTER] And the police got involved. It actually got in the newspaper as well, that they had found the culprits. [LAUGHTER] Not quite what they expected.
So the birds, when they’re caught, it was a really good opportunity to test them. And there was obviously one bird in that particular group which was very sick, and it was found to have very high lead levels. So those birds were then actually looked at to see whether or not the rest of the population was at risk of lead. So this is one of the birds here who was found to have elevated blood lead levels being tested. Then, it was transported to receive treatment in Queenstown. So there’s no one at the moment– So if there’s anyone here from the West Coast, particulary vets, we’d be really keen to talk to you.
No one on the West Coast that was able to help with this process, the chelation therapy to remove the lead from the blood. And the reason is, of course, is because it’s such a big commitment for people to actually undergo. Between a five and 20 day treatment period. So this particular bird here has just been anaesthetised at the moment. And then were taking an X-ray of it, so that they can actually see whether there are large fragments of lead in the guts which need to be removed. And then, the chelation therapy was started. So that’s actually the X-ray. Fortunately, this bird didn’t have large fragments in it. And that’s the first treatment that it’s getting at that stage.
And it was given fluids as well. So then, of course, it went through a five day period to get rid of the lead in its blood stream. And then had to go through a rehabilitation process. So Kiwi Birdlife Park was fantastic, and they held the bird for that period of time. This bird came in underweight. So that’s, of course, one of the symptoms of lead poisoning. It wasn’t able to find its own food. And it spent the entire 10 days that it was there just eating everything possible that he gave it. So that was literally– we watched this bird come around after the anaesthetic wore off in the cage.
The first thing it did when it jumped up was, it just saw a bunch of berries in the back of the cage, and just hone straight into them. So that was absolutely fantastic. And then, the bird went back to the Haast Valley. I released it in here. And it flew off. So it was a fantastic story. But also just shows you what a committed community group can actually do. So where to now? We urgently need funding and community support to activate this project across the South Island. And even with as many passionate people as we have, if we don’t have the funding to support them, then we can’t do this.
So if you want to get involved, please get in touch with us. Whether you’re a vet that is able to help support the kea and provide the treatment. Community holders, you can actually help rehabilitate those birds while they’re undergoing treatment. Or people that can transport those birds to receive veterinary treatment then, we’d love to hear from you. And just to point out, tomorrow we’ve got a workshop that’s going to be going on. We’ve got Janelle Ward, who’s a vet in Wildlife Health Solutions. And she’s going to be running that workshop. And that’s supporting community volunteers who want to help stabilise sick birds that come in, and transport them safely to receive the veterinary treatment. So we’ll be taking registrations.
I’ll put actually, a piece of paper out there later on. You can put your names down. But we really ask that it’s only people that are committed to doing this. We’ve only got space for up to 12 to 20 people maximum. And that’s running tomorrow. So thank you. Yes. Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE] [KEA SOUNDS]
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