Working to protect our kiwi

Department of Conservation —  09/06/2015

Last week the Minister of Conservation announced details about how the latest Budget funding will help turn around the decline of kiwi.

Today, we shine a spotlight on some of the people who work with kiwi…

Jerome Guillotel, Biodiversity Ranger

Jerome Guillotel holding a kiwi.

Jerome Guillotel

When was the first time you saw a kiwi? What was it like?

The first time I saw a kiwi was at the Coromandel Moheau Kiwi Sanctuary in 2002. I was completely blown away.

Having taken hundreds of different people kiwi catching since then, I can safely say that we all react the same way to such an encounter.

We all feel humbled and privileged to be in contact with such a unique, iconic and rare animal. That’s why kiwi are very good for advocacy—they certainly don’t make people indifferent.

Do you have a favourite kiwi species?

My favourite species has to be the one I have been working with for the last ten years at Tongariro, the brown kiwi.

The fact that I have been interacting with a lot of birds—from hatching to breeding—and seen several generations surviving the successive waves of predators, has created in me some sort of one-way bond with the kiwi (they actually don’t feel the same at all) and has given me the will to represent them favourably to the wider community. 

Why do kiwis need our help?

The kiwi population is still declining nationwide, to the point that the next generation of people might be living in a world where species such as kiwi are creatures of the past. This is serious matter, as the diverse and complex web of life that makes our world so enjoyable and fascinating to live in, is quickly eroding. We can already sense the loss of biodiversity in our forests that are not managed; we need to act urgently.

What’s a highlight from your work with kiwi?

It’s a highlight whenever I do releases or capture missions with schools or members of the community. I feel their support and encouragement and this inspires me and makes me feel good about what we do.

What’s the best way to see a kiwi?

The best way to see a kiwi is to go to an area where kiwi are known to live! Hide behind a bush near a track and wait patiently, at dusk, for a very long time—perhaps forever at Tongariro, but maybe not for too long in Northland (people see them in their backyard) or Stewart Island/Rakiura (they can be seen during the day).

Generally speaking, it would be preferable to tap into the local knowledge or contact a kiwi practitioner who could take someone along for the ultimate kiwi adventure!

Hugh Robertson, Principal Science Advisor

Hugh Robertson holding a kiwi. Photo © Sabine Bernert.

Hugh Robertson

When was the first time you saw a kiwi? What was it like?

When I was six I thought I found a kiwi in a macrocarpa tree, but it was a possum!

When tramping the Heaphy Track, aged 10, I heard kiwi calling for the first time at Gouland Downs Hut and was told that we were hearing two species; however, I have since learned that the different calls were from males and females.

My first kiwi sighting came later in the trip near the Heaphy Hut.

Do you have a favourite kiwi species?

Little spotted kiwi—the smallest species—and the one I have had most to do with during translocations to various island refuges and to Zealandia.

Why do kiwis need our help?

Kiwi are being hammered by introduced predators: dogs, ferrets, stoats and cats all take their toll. Unmanaged populations are declining rapidly, but now that we have identified the problem and have effective tools for managing them, all critical populations are increasing.

How does your job help the kiwi?

I have worked on kiwi recovery efforts for 24 years, focusing on research, monitoring and translocations.

As a member of the Kiwi Recovery Group, I provide scientific and technical advice to DOC decision-makers, Kiwis for Kiwi Trust, and to community groups about the management of kiwi, including providing ‘best practice’ advice, and doing relevant research and monitoring with assistance from my certified kiwi dog, Cara.

Hugh Robertson with his certified kiwi dog, Cara. Photo © Sabine Bernert.

Cara the kiwi dog

What’s a highlight from your work with kiwi?

To see the phenomenal growth in interest from community groups who are passionate about keeping kiwi in their neighbourhoods for future generations to enjoy.

When we started the recovery programme, we didn’t know what the main threats were, let alone how to manage kiwi. Over the years we have teased out the issues and developed a pretty good toolbox for DOC and community groups to use to recover kiwi populations, either by using kiwi-specific methods or integrated pest control, depending on the situation.

What’s the best way to see a kiwi?

Various organisations, such as Zealandia and Kapiti Island Nature Tours run good kiwi-spotting night tours with a high probability of seeing kiwi in the wild doing their thing, but to guarantee seeing a kiwi, then attend one of the releases of Bank of New Zealand Operation Nest Egg or “kohanga” (island creche) kiwi into places like Whangarei Heads or Lake Rotokare.

Michelle Impey Kiwis for Kiwi Executive Director

Michelle Impey holding a kiwi.

Michelle Impey

When was the first time you saw a kiwi? What was it like?

My first kiwi sighting was in Whakatane, before I was in the role of managing Kiwis for kiwi.

In my previous job we sponsored a kiwi project, so I was lucky enough to be taken out to track down a kiwi and witness a transmitter change. It was really magical.

10 years, and quite a few kiwi sightings later, the experience of seeing a kiwi is still just as magical.

Do you have a favourite kiwi species?

That’s like asking to pick a favourite child. Everyone has one, but no one likes to admit it. Great spotted kiwi stand out to me even though I know the least about them, and have only had one experience with them in the wild. Maybe I feel a kinship to them because they live at high elevation in alpine terrain. It appeals to my Canadian roots.

Why do kiwis need our help?

It’s interesting. We are their undoing and their salvation all in one. We have brought too many mammalian predators with us, and kiwis’ defence mechanism of standing still and camouflaging no longer works for them. We need to eliminate these predators—stoats and ferrets in particular—for kiwi to thrive. Where we can’t eliminate, we need to control. Dogs—I’m talking to you.

How does your job help the kiwi?

Well, if I do my job well, Kiwis for kiwi brings in a lot of money, which we can then distribute to community-led conservation groups across the country. They can then continue their amazing work of trapping pests, training dogs, educating their local community and more.

Kiwis for kiwi release on Motutapu Island.

Kiwis for kiwi release on Motutapu Island

What’s a highlight from your work with kiwi?

A recent one comes to mind: the announcement of $11.2 million for kiwi work from the 2015 Budget.

What’s the best way to see a kiwi?

Easiest way is to visit a captive facility—some of them have really wonderful ‘behind the scenes’ tours so you can get up close and personal. There are also some great wild kiwi tours you can do.