A colony of rare birds has disappeared in New Zealand to the chagrin of scientists who required government approval to carefully transport the birds to a predator-free island in the midst of the pandemic. The shore plover, the world's rarest plover, is native to New Zealand, but was almost entirely wiped out by rats and cats before the end of the 19th century. There are now thought to be 250 of the birds remaining, though experts have been working to introduce more through captive breeding programs. A colony lived for a few years on Mana Island off the North Island beginning in 2007, but was eventually decimated. A single rat took out half the birds, reports the Guardian. With the pest problem resolved, however, conservationists were ready to try again and transported 29 young shore plovers to the island in April and May. They didn't stick around long.
Three color-banded birds have since been spotted on the mainland's Plimmerton Beach, directly west of Mana. But the rest have vanished and may have fallen victim to avian predators. "It is frustrating, we can give them strict instructions, but they choose not to obey," Dave Houston, leader of the recovery group, tells the Guardian. "They are a challenging species to manage, so it's a great loss … but we persist." The group hopes to capture the survivors and move them back to Mana, where their ground nests are better protected. Houston says they'll be held in an aviary for a month, instead of a week, to allow them to develop an affinity for the island and be equipped with radio transmitters in case they disobey orders again. On a better note, the New Zealand Herald reports the country's third shore plover breeding facility just welcomed its first chick. (Read more New Zealand stories.)