Sanderson are pleased to present Grey Ghost - an exhibition of watercolours, oil and acrylic works by contemporary painter Paul Martinson. The exhibition has a primary focus on the enigmatic South Island Kokako or Koka, often referred to as the 'Grey Ghost'.
Once common throughout the South Island and Stewart Island in prehistoric times; the species of South Island Kokako diminished significantly following the arrival of Māori settlements and the resulting forest clearance and human hunting, particularly on the East Coast. After the introduction of cats and ship rats via a second wave of European settlement, the birds were described as “rapidly approaching extinction” by 1889.
Previously declared extinct by the department of conservation, the South Island Kokako conservation status was reviewed in 2008 and designated 'data deficient' following a significant reported sighting on the West Coast in 2007.
Though their wings were slightly bigger than the North Island species, the South Island Kokako were frequently recorded as spending considerable time on the forest floor and it may have been this behaviour, combined with their trusting nature, which rendered them ecologically naïve and made them vulnerable to mammalian predators.
"The South Island Kokako’s diet consisted mainly of leaves and fruits including karamu, Coprosma species, New Zealand sow thistle, konini and tutu, and, less often, flowers, moss, buds, nectar and small insects and invertebrates."
If the birds still exist, it is likely the population size would be perilously low today and they would be deemed critically endangered. Many experts believe the birds are in fact extinct while a strong and determined group of avian enthusiasts aim to prove otherwise and have even offered substantial financial rewards for their rediscovery.
The South Island Kokako were spectacular endemic wattlebirds and were quite distinct from their North Island relatives, having orange facial wattles with a blue base. They also appear to have been slightly smaller and darker in tone. North Island Kokako traditionally have entirely blue wattles, although there are some rare variants.
The song of the Koka has haunting and beautiful tones, which charm the forest, and the birds remain one of Aoteraroa’s most iconic and important species. Paul Martinson’s exhibition Grey Ghost tells the story of this taonga (treasure) through the eyes of science and an artistic imagination. It tells the story of the South Island Kokako from the perspective of a surrealist mind; reconstructing how this mysterious species would have appeared, with scientific accuracy combined with stunning artistic detail. The exhibition will also include paintings featuring other endemic New Zealand bird species, including the extinct Huia.
 South Island kokako | Kokā, NZ Birds Online