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Native sanctuary fulfils family’s vision

Kim Stewart Nov 11
Native sanctuary fulfils family’s vision

Queenstown’s Kiwi Birdlife Park is a remarkable story of transformation and testament to one family’s energy, passion and vision for conservation along with the commitment of many.

From swampy wasteland to native wildlife sanctuary, the park is home to many of New Zealand’s rarest and most endangered birds and reptiles living within an oasis of native plantings – a shining jewel in our country’s drive for conservation.

Included in its star line-up are North Island Brown Kiwi, Tuatara, Antipodes Island Parakeet, Buff Weka, Forest Gecko’s to name but a few.

Taking pride of place just below the Skyline Gondola, on the side of Bob’s Peak, it’s hard to imagine that the site of the 2.3hectare park was once a swampy dumping ground for derelict old cars and rusting washing machines. And it may still have been, had it not been for the foresight of the Wilson family.

Passionate about nature and conservation, Queenstown business owners Dick and Noeleen Wilson, were frequently asked where the best place was to see a kiwi, igniting a vision to transform the wasteland area into a birdlife sanctuary.

Sharing his parents’ passion for conservation, Paul Wilson joined Dick and Noeleen, purchasing the land in 1984 and setting about their journey of transformation.

Park manager, Paul Kavanagh, says Dick Wilson, in his 50’s at the time, was renowned for his boundless energy.

He says that over a two-year period Dick, Noeleen and Paul set about clearing rubbish and pest species of plants like pines and gorse, planting native specimens, redirecting waterways and constructing aviaries; bringing in other family members and helpers as required.

The park opened to the public in 1986 and now receives around 40,000 visitors, mainly international, each year.

To date around 15,000 native trees have been planted, many of them endemic to New Zealand, with 23 different species of native birds and reptiles cared for under different conservation programs.

The park also maintains insurance populations of species such as Tuatara.

Currently home to eleven, the park bred them for the first time in the parks history last year and now has two little babies just over a year old.

Paul says there are around 200 animals in the park’s aviaries at any one time. He says the longterm vision is to create a mini sanctuary for native birds to come in and nest in the park.

“Because we do a lot of pest control and bush regeneration in the area, we’re starting to get lots of tomtits, tui and bellbirds.

“I’ve just seen heaps of fantails and we get lots of Kereru in the park and we have a healthy population of New Zealand falcon in the park as well.”

The park has a natural spring that has been directed through to most of the aviaries providing the birds with crystal clear spring water.

Paul says that the aviaries have been built around waterways to provide a nice meandering forest walk for visitors.

“All our visitors get a self guided audio tour, available in English, Japanese and mandarin. It takes 45 minutes to an hour to do the forest walk and learn about our 23 native species. We do live kiwi-feeding talks each day where we talk about our conservation work with Kiwi and we also have NZ’s first ever free-flight bird show.”

The park’s forest feel will be increasing this year with the planting of an additional 5000 native trees. “I guess the big thing for us is that working with wildlife you never stand still,” says Paul.

“You always need to keep developing and improving and there is always more you can do to help your native wildlife. So we’re not getting complacent—we’re always trying to keep adapting, keep evolving and improving the park where we can.”

He says that conservation is a concerted team effort. We have very lofty conservation goals in New Zealand. “Everyone has to help out with conservation to help achieve those goals— not just the wild life parks and zoos but everyone can help.

“We get volunteers from all walks of life coming in to help with planting. “Everyone can make a big difference to help conservation and the environment.”

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