South Island's parrot gangs hit town and raise havoc

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The Independent Online

The trouble really starts when they decide to hit town. They are gangs of marauding juvenile kea birds, New Zealand's native mountain parrot, fuelled on high-energy food from the dump and out for a good time.

The trouble really starts when they decide to hit town. They are gangs of marauding juvenile kea birds, New Zealand's native mountain parrot, fuelled on high-energy food from the dump and out for a good time.

Fun in kea terms can mean anything from tearing open the seat of a motorbike left in an unlocked garage to pulling out nails or shredding building paper at construction sites.

The residents of Fox Glacier, a hamlet in the remote south-west of the country's South Island have had enough, and have called in the Department of Conservation to deal with the pests.

"They damaged roofs in the township one night recently. That situation became of concern and we had to remove the perpetrator," said Ian Wightwick, the department's community relations manager.

The population boom is not helping. Tourist numbers are up, and there is a building surge. The kea population is also rising: two mild winters and a warm summer have meant good conditions for breeding.

Kea ( Nestor notabilis) are found mostly in the lower South Island in sub-alpine areas and are fully protected. There are up to 5,000 in the wild. They are nomadic and very sociable, but the trait that gets them into conflict with humans is their insatiable curiosity.

Kea got their first bad press from sheep farmers in the late 19th century. From being regarded as harmless vegetarians, they became infamous for pecking at live sheep. Over an eight-year period, 29,000 birds were killed, with a royalty paid for their beaks.

Although locals lock rubbish away and close garage doors, kea still find a way to get into trouble. They have a fondness for ripping rubber off cars.

The conservation department has put up warning signs at the Fox Glacier car park. "There are two groups of people, some love seeing the birds and then there are some who have their windscreen wipers removed and become quite distressed," Mr Wightwick said.

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