Bird Conservation International

Research Article

Multiple Kagu Rhynochetos jubatus deaths caused by dog attacks at a high-altitude study site on Pic Ningua, New Caledonia

Gavin R. Hunta1, Rod Haya2 and Clare J. Veltmana1

a1 Department of Ecology, Massey University, Private Bag 11222, Palmerston North, New Zealand.

a2 Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 10420, Wellington, New Zealand.

Summary

Dog predation has been cited as an important factor in the decline of the threatened Kagu of New Caledonia but direct evidence of predation was restricted to single kills. Here we report the first documented case of multiple Kagu deaths caused by dogs, which occurred at our 200 ha, high-altitude (800-1,300 m) study site on Pic Ningua. The deaths were discovered because we were radio-tracking Kagus there as part of our behavioural study on the birds. In 1993 we found 20 Kagus either dead (15) or wounded (5; one survived) from dog attacks in four distinct episodes over a 14-week period from late April to early August. Two other birds whose older remains were found also probably died from dog attacks. Of the 22 birds 18 wore radio transmitters; the four non-radio-tracked birds were found by chance. Dogs errant from a nearby tribal village were strongly implicated in carrying out most, if not all, of the attacks. They climbed around 1,000 m in altitude to reach the study site and attacked birds there on repeat visits to the site. The apparent recent disappearance of Kagus in forest neighbouring the study site suggests the dogs caused the deaths of most of the birds on the peak. Dog predation is probably an ongoing problem for the Kagu and the attacks at Pic Ningua are probably not an isolated incident. Protecting birds outside Riviere Bleue Park from dogs will require: (1) establishment of additional intensively managed reserves; (2) continuing education of the public and administrators about the need for Kagu protection and associated dog control; (3) involvement of tribal communities in Kagu conservation; and (4) enforcement of dog control laws. The events at Pic Ningua demonstrate the necessity for additional and non-connected reserves to safeguard against catastrophes and increase the probability of long-term Kagu persistence in the wild.