David Patterson: The New Zealand Kea

David Patterson is an independent consultant, who in-between conducting traditional scientific research for various NGO’s and academic institutions, designs and develops novel innovation projects to aid conservation programmes. Here, David speaks to us about a conservation programme aimed to educate people on the Kea.

David Patterson Photo

Name: David Patterson

Species: Kea (Nestor notabilis)

Location: South Island, New Zealand

Twitter: @Mogs_

Bio: Originally from the UK, David holds a MPhil from the University of Cambridge and now spends most of his time in New Zealand. David works as an independent consultant, conducting traditional scientific research as well as conservation education programmes.

The Kea is not that well known outside of New Zealand, can you tell us a little about this beautiful bird?

The Kea (Nestor notabilis) is endemic to the Southern Alps of New Zealand, they are the only mountain parrot on Earth and one of the world’s most intelligent birds.

Unfortunately, the Kea is in trouble and their populations have crashed. This was initially due to the introduction of a government bounty which resulted an estimated 150,000 birds being culled. While the government bounty has since been retracted Kea still face multiple threats, one of the most pressing is the impact of invasive species. Introduced predators such as stoats and possums, present across the entire extent of the Kea’s habitat, impact the survival of Kea nestlings and adult females. Today it is thought that fewer than five thousand Kea remain in the wild and as a result the Kea is listed as nationally endangered.

Tell us about the recent innovation project you have been involved in to help conserve the Kea?

The Kea Conservation Trust (KCT) works in collaboration with others to preserve and protect Kea. I have been fortunate enough to have been intermittently involved in the work of the KCT for a number of years.

Last year I began to wonder if we could find a way to improve support for the Kea in particular helping to dismiss the misperception that the Kea are common (a belief encouraged by the fact Kea can easily be seen in a few locations around the South Island) and aren’t in need of protection.


LEFT: Kea fieldwork – David (Left) assisting Corey Mosen (Right) place a radio transmitter on a juvenile Kea. RIGHT: Kea. Photo credit: Corey Mosen
"Today it is thought that fewer than five thousand Kea remain in the wild"

To provide the KCT with a new advocacy and education tool to help communicate their work and the issues the Kea faces I designed and developed the Kea Kites project. Kea Kites are handmade kite sets, with a life size image of a Kea which children can colour in with standard felt tips pens – allowing them to customise their kites and make their own piece of art. The project seeks to provide a fun, constructive activity to act a framework to educate the next generation about Kea and why they need our protection.

That’s great! Have you received much support?

We’ve now completed our first crowdsourcing campaign and raised nearly NZ$3000. Thanks to this we can now produce kites for sale in New Zealand and for use in Kea Conservation Trust school and outreach talks.


ABOVE: Kea Kite in flight, by David Patterson. Kea Kites are handmade in small batches in Nelson, New Zealand
"I started my career in conservation volunteering – as most conservationists do – for New Zealand’s Department of Conservation, I would highly recommend it."

I think the best thing working on any innovation project is the support you receive. The Kea Kites project was no exception – we received an incredible amount of help from some very talented people. I must mention Ted Howard (Rainbow Flight – Kite design) and Jenny Long (Artist – Kea artwork) who without their help this project would not have been possible.

Have there been many challenges to overcome?

I made this project happen with extremely limited funds which slows you down and limits your options. In the end it took nine months (three months longer than expected) to develop the kite. It took this long as we had to rely solely on people donating their time and expertise.

Do you have any plans to make any other kites for other species?

We’ve been approached by a few NGO’s to make kites for the birds they work with. In theory since we’ve worked out the kite design and manufacturing process it should be fairly straightforward – essentially all we need is new artwork. It’s something we’re keen to do and will pursue in 2016. I know Ted (Kite Designer – Rainbow Flight) is very keen to make a ‘set’ of conservation kites.

If you work on a bird which you think might be suitable (of conservation interest, large wingspan) please get in touch (djp071[@]gmail.com)!

ABOVE: David taking a short fieldwork break!

Are you optimistic about the future conservation of the Kea?

We know that Kea are struggling under the burden of invasive species and other threats. Despite this I’m optimistic, the Kea Conservation Trust is a great organisation with some very talented and dedicated staff. Providing they are able to continue their work the kea has a bright future. Of course key to this is communicating to the public the challenges the Kea faces!

Lastly, what advice would you give aspiring conservationists?

I started my career in conservation volunteering – as most conservationists do – for New Zealand’s Department of Conservation, I would highly recommend it. It’s totally free, they normally provide accommodation sometimes transport and sometimes food, more importantly they also provide you with a world class foundation in science based conservation. I would strongly recommend the experience.

Thanks David, and good luck!

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