Interning for kiwi in Haast

Department of Conservation —  04/04/2016

My name is Sarah Nason and for the last 5 months I have spent my time wrangling kiwi birds in Haast as an intern for the DOC biodiversity team.

Orokonui 1

Haast kiwi intern Sarah Nason handling a juvenile kiwi at Orokonui Ecosanctuary in Dunedin. Photographer: Leon Berard.

Haast is an isolated little community of about 300 people in South Westland and has been a unique place for my stay in New Zealand. I am originally from Canada and came down under in November 2015 to begin my working holiday after completing a Bachelor of Science back home in a much colder, drier, flatter place.


Sarah and Raupeka

Haast kiwi intern Sarah Nason holding an adult male Haast tokoeka kiwi named Raupeka. Photographer: Rose Hanley-Nickolls.

I was very excited to be selected by DOC for the Haast kiwi internship: I couldn’t believe I was coming to New Zealand to work on wildlife, and the country’s most iconic bird no less!

Since my arrival I have been mostly working in the Haast Tokoeka Sanctuary, an 11 000 hectare area located between the Waiatoto and Arawhata rivers just south of Haast along the Jackson Bay highway. It also happens to comprise some very steep hills and some very thick rainforest (especially for a Canadian mostly familiar with our open, spacious boreal forest!).

There are only an estimated 400 Haast tokoeka kiwi in the wild and they are mainly threatened by stoat predation of chicks and juveniles. The population is primarily managed through Operation Nest Egg (ONE) whereby eggs are removed from nests in the sanctuary, artificially incubated and hatched in captivity, and then the resulting chicks are kept in predator-free crèche sites until they gain enough weight to be considered stoat-proof and released back into the wild.

My internship has been a combination of field and office work, with a strong emphasis on building skills in the field. The field work has included tracking kiwi using radio telemetry, caring for and transport eggs, catching adult birds to change their radio transmitters, small mammal indexing, helicopter work, and travelling to Orokonui Ecosanctuary, one of our crèche sites in Dunedin, to help with chick health checks. Trips to Orokonui are always amazing – nothing beats hanging out with kiwi chicks!

In the office I have performed searches of scientific literature to help inform our management practices and I have been responsible for coordinating an inventory of the stoat traps in the sanctuary.

Gaining practical skills working in conservation has been incredibly valuable for me, and at the same time I have been able to travel and experience beautiful New Zealand!


A juvenile Haast tokoeka kiwi takes a break during its health check at Orokonui Ecosanctuary in Dunedin. Photographer: Leon Berard.

Coming to New Zealand has been an unforgettable experience and I would like to thank DOC for welcoming me into the country and providing me with the opportunity to learn about ecology and conservation through my internship. I would strongly recommend other young biologists to apply and come to intern in Haast – if you’re keen for some steep hiking!

2 responses to Interning for kiwi in Haast

    Cheryl Davey 08/06/2016 at 7:06 am

    Awesome work! Thank you for sharing your story. I am in the early stages of planning my next chapter and have always admired New Zealand’s beauty. I have lightly looked into the overseas employment process for NZ; would you have any tips for a fellow canuck? I want to bring my skills to a meaningful conservation project but I’m finding a bit of a negative vibe inquiring as an immigrant. I hope I’m wrong. Any secrets to applying, inquiring, visas, or any helpful information would be greatly received. Thanks!


    Super jealous – to have my time again I’d jump at a chance like this. Well done to you for going for it and enjoying and embracing such a wonderful experience.