Lou Sanson shares his kākāpō experience

Granite Knobs-Stewart Island. Photo by Lou Sanson

Granite Knobs-Stewart Island. Photo by Lou Sanson

My experience with kākāpō goes back to 1980 when I was seconded from Forest Service to the Wildlife Service to do kākāpō survey on the Tin Range Stewart Island.

I was working for Andy Cox for a month. It was a time when 1080 fish bait was being used in an attempt to control cats on the Tin Range to protect the kākāpō. This was sponsored by BP.

That year back in 1980 was predicted to be a booming year for the kākāpō on the Tin Range.


The squirrel helicopter coming  into Scollays Flat- Stewart Island. Photo by Lou Sanson

It was totally euphoric being there, hearing the kākāpō booming, seeing the track and bowls of these incredible birds. It was an amazing experience for me to be in such a remarkable place at such a time when the kākāpō were still there. It was also a special time for me as I met Rhys Buckingham who has become a life long friend.


Rhys, Pegasus (kākāpō ) and Fran (Lloyds dog) – Stewart Island. Photo by Brian Lloyd

But the trip had a tragic element. We found the remains of 3 kākāpō, killed and eaten by cats. It was the peak of the realisation that the cat control method was failing and that the kākāpō population could not be sustained on Stewart Island.


Remains of kākāpō killed by cats. Photo Allan Munn

Remains of kākāpō killed by cats. Photo Allan Munn

So Andy Cox and Andy Roberts made the call to change the management approach to focus on translocating kākāpō to the cat free island off Stewart Island called Whenua Hou (Codfish Island).

This then led to the realisation leading to pacific rat(kiore) eradication on Whenua Hou in 1998.


Ray Ford, Lockie Carmichael and Rhys Buckingham. Xmas 1981 Scollays Flat. Photo by Lou Sanson

Lockie Carmichael, Ray Ford and Rhys Buckingham. Xmas 1980 Scollays Flat. Photo by Lou Sanson

I will always remember that Christmas at Scollays Flat camp on the Tin Range, amongst the manuka and Rhys Buckingham decorating a manuka tree.

That month was one of the defining times in my life.


Written by Lou Sanson, Director-General of the Department of Conservation