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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Jessup

Tawera Nikau and Emma Giesen New Co-Chairs of Endangered Species Foundation

Updated: Nov 6

Tāngaro Tuia te Ora, the Endangered Species Foundation, today welcomes Tawera Nikau and Emma Giesen as our new Co-Chairs, leading our kaupapa to support biodiversity restoration through Māori-led initiatives.


Pictured from left: Tawera Nikau, Natalie Jessup, Emma Giesen and Stu Muir


With their combined expertise and passion for biodiversity conservation, Tawera and Emma will lead the foundation in a new direction, forging partnerships with Māori-led projects and supporting Mātauranga Māori (indigenous knowledge) alongside Western scientific advancements.

Tawera Nikau, a former rugby league legend hailing from Waikato-Tainui, has embarked on a mission to restore his farm and eradicate koi carp from North Waikato lakes. His commitment to environmental stewardship, combined with his deep ties to the whenua (land) and community wellbeing, make him an invaluable addition to Tāngaro Tuia te Ora.


"I am honoured to join Tāngaro Tuia te Ora in the fight to protect our endangered species and restore our natural ecosystems," says Nikau. "By partnering with Māori-led projects and drawing upon the wisdom of Mātauranga Māori, we can make meaningful strides towards a sustainable future for Aotearoa."

Listen to Tawera's interview with Radio Waatea here:


Emma Giesen, a key force behind the success of Trees That Count, brings a wealth of experience in environmental advocacy and a proven track record of fostering tree planting initiatives across Aotearoa. Her dedication to conservation and the many connections she holds, aligns greatly to support the mission of Tāngaro Tuia te Ora.


"Collaboration is key to addressing the pressing challenges of biodiversity loss and habitat degradation," says Giesen. "I'm excited to work alongside Tawera and our partners to support Māori-led projects and combine indigenous wisdom with the latest Western scientific developments for the benefit of our unique and precious native ecosystems."

The primary focus of Tāngaro Tuia te Ora moving forward will be to strengthen partnerships with Māori organisations, communities, and leaders dedicated to biodiversity restoration. By recognising and incorporating Mātauranga Māori into conservation efforts, the foundation aims to achieve more holistic and sustainable outcomes in the fight to preserve New Zealand's precious wildlife and natural habitats.


"We are entering a new era of biodiversity restoration," says Natalie Jessup, General Manager of Tāngaro Tuia te Ora. "With Tawera and Emma at the helm, we are confident that our foundation will play a pivotal role in how we can work together and revive Aotearoa's ecosystems for generations to come."

Tāngaro Tuia te Ora, the Endangered Species Foundation would like to extend its sincere thanks and gratitude to our outstanding, outgoing Chair, Stu Muir.


“Stu has been instrumental in strengthening our position as a respected organisation through his leadership and emphasis on indigenous perspectives and Māori-led projects for biodiversity and we are so grateful to him for his insights, wisdom and indefatigable spirit to supporting better ways of doing things for te taiao (our environment),” says Jessup.

We also warmly welcome Rangitahi Wharepapa who joins as a new trustee and Graeme Atkins as a new advisor, offering guidance on Mātauranga and Māori-led restoration efforts. We look forward to your advice and insights as we grow and evolve as an organisation.


Other trustee changes include the departure of Pekaira Rei, who was instrumental in the gifting of the name Tāngaro Tuia te Ora – Reigniting Survival Through Revival. We are forever grateful to you Pekaira, for your beautiful wisdom which has allowed us to reset our focus. We also extend our sincere thanks to leaving trustees Abi Foy and Irene Chappel, for your inputs and perspectives which have been invaluable to get us where we are today.


Abi Foy and Stu Muir will now go on to support Tāngaro Tuia te Ora in an advisory capacity, with Abi contributing her expertise on water health as part of the AquaWatch team, and Stu continuing to share his knowledge and experience with awa and wetland restoration.



For media enquiries please contact: Natalie Jessup General Manager Mobile: +64 (0) 22 121 5913 www.endangeredspecies.org.nz/donate


About Tāngaro Tuia te Ora, the Endangered Species Foundation:


Tāngaro Tuia te Ora, the Endangered Species Foundation, is dedicated to the restoration of Aotearoa’s endangered species and ecosystems. The foundation works collaboratively with Māori communities, environmentalists, and scientists to protect and revive the natural biodiversity of Aotearoa.

Website: www.endangeredspecies.org.nz


Bio – Tawera Nikau

Tawera made his name in the highly competitive world of rugby league, playing with South Auckland club Otahuhu before starting his professional career in England where he played with the Castleford Tigers, Sheffield and Warrington. He later moved to Australia to join the Cronulla Sharks and then to the newly formed Melbourne Storm, where he was part of the 1999 premiership winning team and where he is still acknowledged and celebrated as one of their best ever players. A veteran of 19 tests for New Zealand as a forward, Tawera went on to captain the New Zealand Maori team at the Rugby League World Cup and has been inducted into the New Zealand Legends of League. Tawera’s passion and contribution to league continues as he currently sits on the NZRL Board of Directors and is a selector for the New Zealand Kiwis.


In 2003 he had his right leg amputated due to complications from injuries suffered in a motorbike accident. The traits that made him a sporting champion enabled him to excel in other areas. Tawera is now an ambassador for the Achilles Foundation which gives people with disabilities an opportunity to participate in mainstream events. He has completed the New York Marathon three times and in 2010, 2015 completed the Oxfam 100km Trail Walker which raises funds to support Oxfam New Zealand.


As acknowledgment for his contributions Tawera has been appointed as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for Services to Rugby League and the community and in 2011 recognized as an Emerging Leader by the Sir Peter Blake Trust. Tawera is Managing Director of Team One International a training company which is dedicated to “Unleashing Human Potential”.


In recent years, Tawera has been involved with a multi-agency partnership which will see new methods and research approaches trialled for the control of the pest fish koi carp[1]. Te Riu o Waikato Chair Tawera Nikau says Waikato-Tainui have an important connection to the Waikato River and mana whenua are enthusiastic about partnering in the project to curb the pests.


“Koi are a real challenge across our rohe, and this trial also presents us with some employment and economic opportunities for iwi, hapu and whanau. We’re excited to be part of it and welcome the long-term commitment of funding to learn more about how we can control these fish and reduce them in our awa.”

Bio Emma Giesen

Emma is a community and stakeholder engagement specialist with a particular focus on community led environmental projects. She has worked in the international development sector, with stints in both Laos and Peru where she worked for local NGOs focused on enabling community participation in environmental projects.

Emma is currently the Planting Partnerships Manager for Trees that Count where she works with landowners, iwi and community groups around Aotearoa enabling native forest restoration projects. She previously worked as Stakeholder Engagement Manager for Predator Free Wellington. Emma has a passion for te reo Māori and is an advocate and active contributor for how organisations can better uphold Te Tiriti at all levels.

Emma is originally from Hawke’s Bay and currently lives in Wellington.



[1] https://www.doc.govt.nz/news/media-releases/2022-media-releases/collaboration-a-key-for-new-koi-carp-control-trial/

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