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Major setback for Rarotonga Monarch

Cook Islands Cyclones Wreak Havoc

Five cyclones passed through the southern Cook Islands in five weeks in summer 2005, causing widespread damage to property and infrastructure. The impact on the islands' wildlife is presently unknown, but the storms may have caused the death of many Rarotonga Monarchs Pomarea dimidiata.The endemic monarch – local name Kakerori – numbered just 38 individuals in 1987, but the population had increased to around 290 by 2003 thanks to implementation of a species recovery plan supported by the Kainuku, Karika and Manavaroa landowners and the Atiu Community at the Takitumu Conservation Area, the species’ only remaining locality on Rarotonga. Measures included intensive rat control in the area.With the help of New Zealand's Department of Conservation a total of 30 birds were transferred to Atiu over three successive years, starting in 2001, to establish an "insurance population" against a catastrophe – such as a cyclone hitting Rarotonga (see World Birdwatch 23(4): 5 and 25(1): 9). Atiu is approximately 200 km north of Rarotonga. However it was also hit by Cyclone Nancy, a "once in 50 years" storm, in February 2005. As a result the small monarch population there (16 were sighted in January 2005) may also have been devastated."The establishment of an ‘insurance’ population was timely, but having both islands hit in the same season is incredibly bad luck. Currently we are unable even to get to the Takitumu Conservation Area to assess the damage. We urgently need to re-open the 35 km of access routes; we know buildings were badly damaged, as were many of the rat baiting stations, but the monarchs cannot be left to breed without a rat control programme in operation – it would be a disaster." said Ian Karika, Taporoporoanga Ipukarea Society (TIS, BirdLife in the Cook Islands) Other threatened species on the island whose populations have been affected and urgently need surveying include Rarotonga Starling Aplonis cinerascens, Atiu Swiftlet Collocalia sawtelli, Mangaia Kingfisher Todiramphus ruficollaris, Cook Islands Fruit-dove Ptilinopus rarotongensis and Blue Lorikeet Vini peruviana. All are listed as globally Vulnerable. The Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund (DWCF) has generously given US$15,000 for immediate conservation efforts, and the New Zealand Government’s New Zealand Aid fund has contributed too, but more funds are urgently needed if the populations of Kakerori on Rarotonga and Atiu are to be restored to their pre-cyclone levels.

4th July 2014