Can apps drive kids into our regional parks? They sure can with Habitat the Game, which we hope will send them searching for The Black Oyster Catchers habitat in Whitireia Park and the North Island Brown Kiwi habitat in Wainuiomata Recreation Area.
Habitat the Game is an interactive mobile game that’s designed to teach 7 to 12 year-olds across the world ecologically, sustainable habits and conservation behaviour while encouraging them and their families to go outside and visit nature locations. It’s free, and available for both Apple and Android operating systems.
In the vein of the Tamagotchi play craze of the 90s, Habitat the Game encourages youngsters to undertake actions to keep an endangered animal alive. Players help their cute bear by scoring points in mini-games within the app and by completing real-life ‘missions’ at home or in their community, such as recycling, composting and turning lights off.
Extra points are earned by visiting designated locations (habitat hotspots). When the user’s mobile device is taken to a habitat location in their area thegame unlocks an exclusive ‘pin’ to collect or swap with other players around the world. Players can get bonus points by answering a quiz related to the pins they unlock.
So a real benefit of the game is that it drives behaviour. Not only does it foster conservation habits at home, it gets kids out of the house and into the habitat or nature location shown on their devices’ screen.
“We’re really pleased to be involved,” says GWRC Parks Marketing and Design Team Leader Andy Nelson. “The added bonus for us is that the game will encourage people into our regional parks. They will experience the beauty of the environments and the wide range of things people can do in them.
”We chose The North Island Brown Kiwi because of recent events in Wainuiomata involving Kiwi and the successes the community and volunteer groups are having with establishing a viable, self-sustaining Kiwi population in the area.” The Oyster Catchers were chosen because the likelihood of sighting one at Whitireia Park is reasonably high. Apart from that they are both really cool endangered birds that kids will adore and continue to care for.
The game was brought to New Zealand through an agreement between the Department of Conservation and Elevator Entertainment, and it’s being trialled in the Wellington region, where there are currently 13 Habitat location pins. DOC is hosting five pins, GWRC, Wellington City Council and Zealandia two pins, with, Pukaha and the Zoo providing one pin each. There is interest from Te Papa, Hutt City Council, Upper Hutt City Council. DOC has committed to adding a 6th pin in celebration of Conservation Week. As at August 2014 there were 150 pins to collect, spread across 14 countries around the world.
To collect the pin make your way to the Reservoir Road entrance to the Wainuiomata Recreation Area, walk across the field and bridge to find the Pin at the Hine Road entrance to the park. For more information on the game, go to www.habitatthegame.com or download it from Google Play or the App Store and get out there looking for pins.
Dog walkers should lead by example
GWRC’s more forceful approach to dog control is aimed at protecting native birds from predators, an issue that came into sharp focus recently with the mauling and death of a young Kiwi by a dog in the adjacent Rimutaka Forest Park. But the policy is also aimed at accommodating people who simply want to enjoy the area without having to worry about roaming dogs.
The Wainuiomata Recreation Area contains mountainous terrain split up by streams and steep sided ridges. As well as Kiwi there are populations of tui, kereru, bellbird, kakariki, whitehead, tomtit and rifleman in the area.
To protect them, dogs must be kept on a lead at all times; they are not allowed on the Lower Dam walk beyond Gums Loop Junction. While the area is popular among dog walkers in Wainuiomata, Dion says there are other places nearby to walk dogs off the leash, such as Hine Rd and Richard Prouse Park.
He stresses that Wainuiomata Recreation Area isn’t being singled out. Enforcement of the policy ensures consistency with Hutt City Council's Dog Control Bylaws for parks, which state that dogs must be kept on a lead unless they are in designated dog exercise areas.
While the rule applies in the Wainuiomata Recreation Area, it varies across different parks. The best advice is to look for and respect posted signs. Otherwise, you can find information for each park by clicking here
Robins in the Hood
The founder population of North Island Robins were translocated from Kapiti Island to Wainuiomata Mainland Island in two phases during 2012/2013 with the help of tangata whenua and a large number of volunteers.
Kaumatua from Ngati Toa and Te Atiawa ki Whakarongotai gifted the birds to Taranaki Whanui, and Ngati Toa rangatira were among more than 50 volunteers involved in capturing and caring for the birds on Kapiti Island and releasing them into their new home in Wainuiomata.
The robins had an extremely successful breeding season during the 2014 summer, with 67% of nests (or 8 of 12 nests monitored) successfully fledging one or more chicks and each breeding pair raising on average 1.5 chicks. These results compare with those seen on predator-free offshore islands or mainland islands, suggesting that predator control in the Wainuiomata Mainland Island has greatly reduced the impacts that rats and other predators have on nesting native birds.
Intensive monitoring of the released birds was undertaken to accurately assess their breeding success. Most of the nests studied were within easy reach of the ground, enabling a fieldworker to band all but one chick before they’d left the nest, and track the fate of almost every individual egg. Once the chicks fledge from the nest they spend another four weeks being fed by their parents before becoming “independent” and leaving their natal territory.
The challenge ahead for this small population is whether many of the new generation of North Island Robins will settle in the mainland island and become recruited back into the local population. Unfortunately, there is a real risk this may not happen because juveniles have an irresistible urge to get away from their parents.
North Island Robins were once common and widespread in the forested areas of the Wellington region, but by the 1890s they had become rare or extinct throughout the Rimutaka and Orongorongo ranges due to the combined effects of habitat loss and predation by introduced mammals such as rats, mustelids, possums and cats. They were last seen in the upper Wainuiomata Catchment, now part of the Wainuiomata Mainland Island.
This catchment is part of one of the largest and least modified tracts of mixed podocarp-broadleaf forest remaining in the lower North Island. It has never been logged and includes significant stands of old growth rimu, matai and kahikatea trees, providing an intact forest habitat with abundant supplies of invertebrates ideal for North Island Robins.
The re-introduction is part of a project by Greater Wellington Regional Council to maintain and restore the Wainuiomata Mainland Island ecosystem by intensively controlling pest animal and plant species. Since 2005, an intensive rat control operation in the Wainuiomata Mainland Island has consistently managed to reduce rat numbers to very low levels. Mustelids (stoats, ferrets and weasels), possums and cats are also being controlled through a network of traps.
Volunteers play an important role in pest control, and we thank them for their efforts. Members of two Hutt valley tramping clubs help to set traps and fill bait stations every two months and monitor pest numbers four times a year.
Given that predators are being consistently maintained at very low levels within the mainland island we are confident that we have removed or significantly reduced the potential risk that introduced predators would pose to a re-introduced robin population.