Translocating Okarito brown kiwi

Department of Conservation —  10/11/2014

By Ieuan Davies, Biodiversity Ranger based in Franz Josef

Moving juvenile Okarito brown/rowi kiwi from a predator-free crèche island back to their natural range of Okarito Sanctuary isn’t as straight forward as you might think!

Ranger holding an Okarito brown kiwi.

Okarito brown kiwi

Firstly, you’ve just got to get to the island. It is a windy six and a half hour drive from Franz Josef to Picton and then a boat must be taken for up to an hour to reach the crèche, Motuara Island, in the outer Queen Charlotte Sound.

Motuara Island.

Motuara Island

There is a lot of gear to transport, including tracking equipment, food for the rangers and volunteers, and of course all the kiwi boxes.

Equipment, DOC rangers and volunteers on the jetty at Motuara Island.

Equipment, DOC rangers and volunteers

There is a small hut on the island which is for DOC use only. However, it only has space for two mattresses. So, mattresses are layed out under the hut’s tarpaulin, plus there are a couple of tents. On a calm and clear night, mattresses can be taken to the jetty or platform on the top of the island.

Lights of Picton at night, from the summit of Motuara Island.

Lights of Picton at night, from the summit of Motuara Island

After a noisy night—mostly thanks to the raucous little blue penguins and sooty shearwaters—it’s an early start, getting organised for tracking and transporting kiwi.

Organising under the tarpaulin at the tiny DOC hut.

Organising under the tarpaulin at the tiny DOC hut

Motuara Island is not a big island, at just under 2 kilometres long and up to 500 metres wide, but it is fairly steep and the bush is thick.

There is a very good public track from the jetty to the summit, but apart from that there are only a few overgrown tracks/routes.

The juvenile kiwi tend to spread themselves out across the island, so to get to their burrows a lot of bush-bashing and scrambling over loose terrain is required. For tracking, a seeker and aerial are used for picking up the transmitters that the kiwi wear on one of their legs.

Tracking kiwi through flax bush using an aerial.

An aerial for tracking

A kiwi dog is also sometimes used and is most helpful for finding the exact position of the kiwi—and also for following the kiwi that sometimes bolt from the burrow!

Rain, the kiwi dog, looking for kiwi.

Rain, the kiwi dog

Sometimes the kiwi burrows are in artificial kiwi boxes, but often they are in hollow logs—deep in the base of hollow old trees, or just under some fern fronds or, most difficult of all, deep inside thick flax bushes.

DOC Ranger Tracey, with a captured kiwi.

DOC Ranger Tracey, with a captured kiwi

Unfortunately, the kiwi must be taken back to their boxes which are waiting for them at the hut. Large buckets, although unceremonious, are the most practical means for this transport. The kiwi is a resilient bird though—appropriate as New Zealand’s icon.

Kiwi are transported back to the hut in buckets.

Kiwi transport buckets

Back at the hut, the kiwi are treated for lice and given fluids to prepare them for their long trip back to Okarito Sanctuary. This isn’t a pleasant experience for them but at least they don’t have to see a bucket again.

Volunteers preparing kiwis for trip to Okarito Sanctuary.

Volunteers, Laura and Beatty, preparing kiwi for trip to Okarito Sanctuary

After the boat ride, and the road trip back to Franz Josef, the kiwi are given more fluids before being released back to their home range of Okarito Sanctuary.

This season 52 juveniles were released, which is the most for the project so far.

Releasing a kiwi back home in Okarito Sanctuary.

Releasing a kiwi back home in Okarito Sanctuary