The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 9 (December 1, 1938)
For a great number of years after the colonisation of New Zealand the people were chiefly concerned with material needs. “First things first” was the universal slogan when the Maori wars ended in 1872—immigration, land settlement, town and city building, the creation of industries, road, bridge and railway construction, and the search for overseas markets occupying the full time and talents of the people. Cultural amenities waited on the completion of the essentials of modern civilisation, and the interregnum was marked by an era of axe and saw and fire, for, in the process of building the State, reasoned consideration of the colony's future needs in certain directions was lacking, with the result that priceless economic and aesthetic assets were destroyed.
The wholesale felling of native bush has had tragic results in the form of periodical floods in all districts where this practice has been followed.
In his very valuable botanical survey of Kapiti Island, in 1906, Dr. L. Cockayne states: “Few incidents are more to be regretted in the settlement of new countries than the more or less complete destruction—unavoidable in many cases—of the fauna and flora. This is especially to be deplored when the members of these are of a rare or peculiar character, and such destruction has taken place in New Zealand to an extreme degree. Everywhere where the land has been specially suitable for settlement, the native animals and plants have in large measure been replaced by those of other lands, and these animals and plants are one of New Zealand's assets. Not a few of both classes have their like nowhere else upon the globe; while, if we consider the plants alone, their manifold combinations, and the congregation of so many peculiar biological forms, can be met with in no other temperate region of equal area.”
The tragedy of the depletion of our timber trees is very serious, but the accompanying loss of many thousands of trees that were the food-stores of our native birds, and other trees and plants that were marvellously beautiful, is also tragic. In addition to their food supplies being destroyed, the birds were constantly harried by native and pakeha, till at last the remnants of once-large flocks of bell-birds, tuis, pigeons, and other indigenous birds endeavoured by retreating to lonely fastnesses in the hills and gullies of the back country, to escape complete destruction.
So far as the birds are concerned, the list of those “absolutely protected” totals nearly 200 (inclusive of the various species of named birds). For instance, there are in this list (gazetted in March last year) nine varieties of albatross, six kiwis, twenty-two petrels, five robins, nine shags, five snipes, ten terns, six rails, ten penguins, seven parrakeets, and five wekas. One hopes that before the next godwit season arrives a place in this humanitarian list will be found for this little flying marvel.
Actually, however, the only sanctuaries that are maintained strictly for the propagation and preservation of native birds and plants are Kapiti and Little Barrier. The latter, in the Hauraki Gulf, has an area of 7,000 acres, and is very capably administered by a resident caretaker, under the control of the Tourist Department.
Kapiti has the distinction of having been constituted a sanctuary by a special Act of Parliament. The Lands Department controls this island, and the resident caretaker is Mr. A. S. Wilkinson. During the thirteen years since his appointment Kapiti has become famous amongst botanists and bird-lovers in many parts of the world. Just as certain specially fortunate individuals are blessed with what are known as “gardening fingers,” that enable them to bring to the highest stage of their destined beauty or utility flowers and plants and vegetable seeds, so do Mr. and Mrs. Wilkinson appear to possess the rare gift of making friends with the birds and to possess, too, that “extra” sense in the propagation of the many rare and lovely plants that now grace the hillsides.
Several portfolios of photographs of birds and plants and insects on Kapiti, taken by the caretaker and his wife, are monuments of photographic skill and of endless hours of patient waiting for the exactly favourable moment when the perfect bird picture can be snapped. A great many of Mrs. Wilkinson's photographs have adorned books and publications in New Zealand and elsewhere, and a similar compliment has been paid to Mr. Wilkinson's camera studies and descriptive articles.