Categories: Science

Saving Its Flightless National Bird: New Zealand Takes Action

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There are only about 70,000 wild kiwis left in New Zealand, but numbers are rising thanks to dozens of community initiatives to protect them.

New Zealand’s cherished kiwi birds are roaming around the green hills of Wellington for the first time in a century, after a campaign to eradicate invasive predators from areas around the capital.

Visitors to New Zealand a millennium ago would have encountered bona fide “birdies” — islands teeming with feathered creatures that flitted through life unaware of the presence of mammalian predators.

The arrival of Polynesian travelers in the 13th century and Europeans a few hundred years later changed all that.

Snapping snipe bars and birdsong, the mice nibbled all the seeds and berries they could find, leaving little for the local birds to peck at.

Fossil – introduced for fur – stripped trees. Rabbits born like rabbits devour meadows and pastures alike.

Piling disaster upon disaster, caravans are introduced to kill rabbits but instead kill wrens, thrushes, owls and quail.

The number of native flightless birds such as kakapo and kiwi has decreased.

The Department of Conservation estimates that there are only about 70,000 wild kiwis left in New Zealand.

Despite the bird being a beloved national symbol, few New Zealanders have ever seen it in the wild.

However, the numbers are rising again thanks to more than 90 community initiatives working nationwide to protect them.

One such group is The Capital Kiwi Project, a charitable foundation supported by millions of dollars in government grants and private donations.

New Zealand flightless birds such as the kiwi were wiped out by the predators that accompanied the arrival of humans.

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“Since people arrived in New Zealand, we’ve had a special relationship with the kiwi,” Paul Ward, the project’s founder and project officer, told AFP.

“They are central to Maori legend. Our sports teams, rugby league teams, our defense force, and even when we go abroad, we are known as the Kiwis.

“They are strong, resilient, and adaptable, all values ​​we think of as New Zealanders, but most of us have never seen a Kiwi.”

Ward estimates that wild kiwi last roamed Wellington over a century ago.

Trying to save them requires a sustained conservation effort.

The project first had to deal with the natural enemies of the kiwi that roam the bushes.

Local dog owners were invited to sessions to teach their pets to stay away from the kiwi while out for walks.

The project also had to declare war on the stoats.

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Kiwis are roaming around Wellington’s verdant hills for the first time in a century, after a campaign to eradicate invasive predators from the capital’s periphery.

An adult kiwi can fight off an stoat, Ward explained, using its strong legs and sharp claws, but the chick stands no chance.

The project placed a massive network of 4,500 traps over an area equivalent to approximately 43,000 football fields in the hills around Wellington. Traps have harvested 1,000 bottoms so far.

After the “storet kidnapping,” in Ward’s words, the number of predators was low enough for the project to release its first batch of kiwis last November.

The birds were carefully transported some 500 km (310 mi) from a captive breeding program to the Wellington School, where they were welcomed in a traditional Māori ceremony.

Ward said silence fell upon the 400-strong crowd as they caught a glimpse of the kiwi as the first bird was released.

A member of the Capital Kiwi Project team released a male kiwi named tārangi after changing the bird’s transmitter.

Rare sightings

“The power of that moment was palpable,” he said. “Our job is to mobilize and spread that across the hills of Wellington.”

Regular checks show that the first wave is thriving.

“Two months after we released the birds, we were thrilled to discover that they had gained weight,” Ward said.

“One of them had put on 400 grams – that’s a lot of weight gain even for a human over Christmas or Easter. There’s plenty of food for them on these hillsides.”

Ward said the goal is to release 250 birds over the next five years to build up a large population of wild kiwis.

Regular checks show that birds released into the wild thrive.

He wants their distinctive shrieking screams to become part of everyday life in the suburbs of the capital.

“It is our duty to take good care of the animal that gave us its name,” said Ward.

As one of our volunteers said, “If we can’t take care of the thing we’re named after, we deserve to be renamed idiots.”

© 2023 AFP

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