Euthanasia may be the “kindest option” for three “complex” native birds without homes after Rotorua nature park Rainbow Springs closed, some experts say.
But others argue private care could be a viable alternative.
Rainbow Springs owner Ngāi Tahu Holdings says more than 150 individual wildlife have been rehomed since the 90-year-old business closed permanently last year but a kea, kākā and weka remain. A collective of Ngāti Whakaue entities has agreed to buy the land.
The manu (birds) are Aotearoa natives and protected species. The kea, an alpine parrot, is endangered, with an estimated 3000-7000 remaining. Kākā varieties range from at-risk but recovering, to vulnerable, to extinct. The population of weka – a feisty, flightless bird – is decreasing and classed as vulnerable.
Ngāi Tahu Holdings general manager of corporate services Jo Allison said it had been rehoming animals since the closure.
“Unfortunately, we have a very small number of manu that we are still working to rehome. These birds have very complex histories and natures which have made rehoming them difficult,” Allison said.
“As kaitiaki (guardian) of all animals at Rainbow Springs Nature Park we have valued this responsibility dearly.”
Allison said if homes could not be found, “the kindest option may be euthanasia” and its team “would not take this decision lightly”.
“We have also engaged extensively with local mana whenua Ngāti Whakaue and Ngāi Tahu taonga species experts in our consideration,” Allison said.
Rainbow Springs had rehomed more than 150 individual wildlife locally and to various wildlife parks and zoos in Aotearoa. These included 52 individuals of 19 different protected native species.
No animals were released in the wild or transferred to Ngāti Whakaue ownership.
“We have worked closely with the Zoo and Aquarium Association, the Department of Conservation, Auckland Zoo, Fish & Game and mana whenua to secure the best and safest rehoming options for all animals affected by the closure,” Allison said.
Rainbow Springs remained committed to kiwi conservation at the National Kiwi Hatchery and would fully relocate from Rainbow Springs to the Agrodome over the next year.
Department of Conservation Rotorua operations manager Zane Jensen said it oversaw the management of protected native wildlife in captivity under the Wildlife Act.
“Sadly, these three birds are not suitable for safe or humane release into the wild because they have health or behavioural needs, are relatively old and have complex management needs.
“Obviously, we would like to see a suitable home found for them, but ultimately our last resort is humane euthanasia.”
Decisions to euthanise were difficult but were always made in the best interest of the welfare of the animal, he said.
Jensen said it was preferable to animals suffering the prolonged stress of an unsuitable facility or being left to starve in the wild, unable to provide for themselves.
He said Ngāi Tahu and the Zoo and Aquarium Association were still exploring rehoming options.
The association said in a statement while rehoming was still being explored, “the age and special behavioural needs” of the birds may make this not possible and “may only stress the birds”.
“Euthanasia can be the kindest and most responsible option when it becomes impossible to support an animal’s quality of life, particularly [for] aged animals who may struggle with a relocation.”
It said Rainbow Springs was accredited for positive animal welfare by the association, and the park’s team had “demonstrated their commitment to the wellbeing of animals under their care”.
Tamsin Orr-Walker, the chairwoman of the Kea Conservation Trust, said she knew the kea – named Jenny – from when she worked at Rainbow Springs and had been consulted about her situation.
“There has been a huge investment of time by the organisations and individuals responsible for Jenny and the decision to euthanise her was only made once all practical avenues had been exhausted,” Orr-Walker said.
“Jenny was hand raised and so imprinted on humans and has been unable to integrate with other kea over the last 30 years. Efforts to introduce her with other kea have resulted in their deaths.
“Humane euthanasia is not considered a welfare issue and in some cases is definitely the kindest thing to do.”
She understood options for Jenny had been worked on for more than a year and a half.
BirdCare Aotearoa general manager Dr Lynn Miller said the decision to euthanise was individual-dependent.
“It is about the welfare of the bird and not its species.
“Some birds also will never adapt to captivity and will suffer a living hell – we see this in their fear reactions … even [to] the sound of human voices.”
Habitats in Aotearoa were often inadequate for providing a good quality of life for the birds being housed, she said.
Miller said finding appropriate spaces took time, money, and expertise to ensure the birds would have the best opportunity to find comfort. She said diets, vet supervision, and cost must be factored in and if these were not acceptable, euthanasia must be considered.
It may be “better than a living hell” and people must not impose a view that “life is better than death”.
Debbie Stewart, founder and executive director at Rotorua bird breeding facility and visitor attraction Wingspan Birds of Prey, said she did not know the specifics about the situation but the welfare of native species was of public interest.
“Our philosophy for ngā manu that we look after is often on a case-by-case scenario on what is best for that species.
“In that sense, those animals could possibly still have value for public awareness, education, and not less their genetics.”
Stewart said kea had a long lifespan and there may be rehoming opportunities with private parrot holders.
Hayden van Hooff, president of the Parrot Society of New Zealand, had years of experience handling parrots, including kea, and would take Jenny if he could but private ownership of native birds was not allowed.
Van Hooff said he knew people who would be willing and able to build aviaries and provide an adequate diet for the birds’ specifications.
In his opinion: “When it comes to kea, some would rather see them euthanised than in private care. Their argument is that private owners can’t give kea what they need, which isn’t true.
“I’ve dealt with imprinted birds, non-imprinted birds, wild-caught birds and they are just so cool.
“Imprinted or not, they can still live a fantastic life.”
He did not want to see these birds euthanised.
“There’s no reason in my mind, to euthanise if they are healthy when there are solutions available. Why not use aviculturists like us to help with the recovery of our native birds?”
This content was originally published here.