The do’s and don’ts of interacting with NZ’s native wildlife

Department of Conservation —  16/12/2018

If you’re here from overseas visiting our unique nature; or are from elsewhere in the country exploring your wider backyard, here are some hot tips to treat wildlife the Kiwi way.

1 – Don’t get too close

New Zealand’s native species are unique, precious and fascinating. It’s tempting to try and get an up-close encounter but keeping your distance will avoid causing stress or harm to any wildlife. Give wildlife their space.

Our native species includes marine mammals like seals, dolphins and whales; birds like kiwi, whio and pukeko; and invertebrates like crayfish, wētā and giant snails. It’s a vast group.

Each species is vulnerable to disturbance in different ways. For instance, if you’re too close to a seal or whale, both of you are in danger as they can attack if they feel threatened or need to protect their young.

On the other hand, kiwi are very sensitive, and if you crowd them, or try to pick them up, the stress could cause them injury or even death.

Elephant seal on the Chatham Islands.

Elephant seal on the Chatham Islands. 📷: Leon Berard, Creative Commons

2 – Don’t share food

New Zealanders love our kai (food), and our wildlife do too.

The rule of thumb is, whatever food you carry in, you need to either eat or carry out.

We like tramping snacks like nuts, fruit, muesli bars, crackers, bread, chocolate and veggies. But none of these should be shared with native species. Even something like nuts, which birds may eagerly eye up, shouldn’t be given to them if it’s something you brought into their space.

Even feeding birds native plants is a no-no, because it teaches them to take food from you and lowers their necessary natural suspicion, which is a crucial survival skill.

Some species have a gift for wheedling food from visitors, but you need to resist their charms. On that note:

3 – Don’t trust Kea

Kea will rob you blind.

These alpine parrots (the only kind in the world!) are notoriously cheeky and can’t help getting into mischief.

Kea are ruled by their curiosity and are famous for taking and eating things that don’t belong to them. This is a big problem when they steal food or equipment that could poison, choke or strangle them.

Kea will nick (steal) your stuff at any opportunity, and it could seriously harm or kill them. That’s not their fault, they’re birds. As the person, it’s up to you to keep kea safe.

  • Never feed kea
  • Never leave temptations like loose clothing and boots, packs, food or brightly coloured objects around kea, especially your car keys!
Kea with cigarette butt

Kea with cigarette butt 📷: Marisa Galitz, Creative Commons

4 – Do selfie safely

Your Instagram grid says a lot about you. You don’t want it to say, ‘I’m a jerk.’

If your social media boasts close ups with New Zealand’s native species, your followers will wonder about the risk to the species to get that shot.

Our social media team are frequently sent reports from members of the public, concerned about wildlife not being given enough space by people seeking prime pics.

Wellington Live


There’s been quite a bit written about the effects of selfie culture on wildlife. We don’t encourage this kind of dangerous behaviour in NZ. Sure, take pictures of wildlife and talk about your experiences online; but do it from an appropriate distance.

You can learn about appropriate distances for different species on our website, but as a general rule of thumb, stay at least 20m away.

If you’re in the water in a vessel (which includes kayaks and paddleboards!) near a marine mammal, then there are very specific distances you must follow and speeds you must stay under.

You don’t need to get close to get a great shot – it’s amazing what the right lense and proper focus can do.

Kea around the Haast Range.

Kea around the Haast Range. 📷: Kerry Weston, Crown Copyright

5 – Do keep a close eye on your pets & your kids

Pets, children and wildlife don’t mix. Unsupervised kids and uncontrolled dogs can cause serious harm or disturbance to wildlife. In some cases, our native species may even lash out and inflict injuries on your unsuspecting child or pooch; which is a nightmare situation best avoided.

Laura Boren, dog owner and Marine Science Advisor, wrote an excellent series of blogs about managing dogs in coastal environments. You can find Laura’s blogs here.

6 – Do follow the rules

Interacting with wildlife in NZ isn’t something that’s governed by chance. You must have permission from DOC to:

  • catch or handle wildlife
  • hold live wildlife in captivity, or hold any part of dead wildlife
  • export live/dead wildlife
  • release species into a wild location
  • disturb, harm or kill wildlife or their eggs

There are instances where our conservation partners may need to do things like collect eggs or release species, but in these cases they will have applied for and received the required permits.

Yellow eyed penguin returning from the sea, Hannah Hendriks, Crown Copyright

Yellow eyed penguin returning from the sea.📷: Hannah Hendriks, Crown Copyright


In some curious cases, wildlife has hidden in incognito mode, like these giant snails which were mistaken for shells by travellers. These snails were returned, but at regrettable extra cost and effort. Unfortunately, even if these were just shells, it would still be against the law to take them. You can’t take snail shells or snails from their rightful home.

The powelliphanta snail is packed in damp moss with a few earthworm snacks for its return to Nelson_(c)DOC

Kidnapped powelliphanta. 📷: DOC, Crown Copyright

7 – Do report sick, injured or dead wildlife

Without fail. You can find information about what to do in these scenarios on our website.

The main thing to remember is the number for our emergency line: 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).

8 – Do your research

If your travels will take you towards a seal colony, you need to read up on how to behave around seals. Or perhaps you’re off for a spot of bird spotting – in which case make sure you know how your behaviour can help or harm NZ’s native birds.

This useful information is on our website. A good place to start is the how to behave around wildlife page. We’ve also got some great guidance on what to pack and keeping yourself safe in general.

If in doubt, contact us.

Have a great time out of doors, admiring our native wildlife the Kiwi way.

In Aotearoa New Zealand we have a way we like to do things. We call it the Kiwi way.

Whether you’re a local, or you’re here on holiday, we all have a shared responsibility to look after this awesome place. From the mountains to the sea, and all places in between where we care for taonga no matter its size:

15 responses to The do’s and don’ts of interacting with NZ’s native wildlife


    Very informative. Thank you.


    Interesting to read 12 comments all against the use of 1080 to control predation of our native bird life but not one alternative method of control suggested.


    Your having a laugh aren’t you Doc.
    You might want to add
    “” When exploring our country. If you come across any green cereal looking pellets . Please don’t handle or move them. If you find these said pellets in our fresh water rivers etc. Do Not drink the water. As we The Department of cruelty will not be held accountable for any side effects or death”””
    No that’s more like it!!!! Yeah, grate job Doc great job!😎

    Donna Hitchcox 20/12/2018 at 7:04 am

    I think your do’s and dont’s are well worded and helpful. Its sad to see people usesing this site as a personal grievance place so Id just like to say well done Doc for this info on the do’s and dont’s with our wildlife. I found this interesting and nicely written.


    How about: if you want to feed our native wildlife please use 1080. You can pick up your free sample bag from your local DoC office.


    (Doc says, kiwi are very sensitive, and if you crowd them, or try to pick them up, the stress could cause them injury or even death.)
    Doc; should say Kiwi are dangerous to handle and people will be hurt if trying to pick a kiwi up, very unlikely as kiwi can out run a person..
    Kiwi do not use their beaks to fight. The kiwi’s beak is a finely tuned appendage, capable of detecting a few parts per million of scent. … The kiwi’s main weapons are its powerful legs and sharp claws. Territorial fights are a jump and slash affair, and can inflict fatal injuries….. Once again Doc; has told porkies.. Stop killing our wildlife, stop 1080.. can’t believe any thing Doc; says, as they tell lies..

    Ed Harcourt 19/12/2018 at 6:47 am

    heres a tip Doc, dont poison the wildlife, and follow your own advice and stay away from the wildlife!

    Chris Windley 19/12/2018 at 3:47 am

    DOC, you are the main cause of the loss of birdlife in our country, with your poisoning campaign across our countryside. This year, over the 1.1million ha you and OSPIRI have poisoned with 1080, you have killed 477,000 of our birds, far more then the so called pests have ever killed. STOP 1080 poisoning.


    So many many contradictions DOC

    How’s dropping and spraying highly toxic poisons into their environment and waterways helping them?

    How’s netting, manhandling, pulling wings out, sticking things on them, sticking their legs together with electrical tape etcetc going for them DOC?

    It isn’t

    You are killing them, slowly but surely


    The dos and don’ts..where to start…mmm ..let’s see…don’t feed these curious birds Ecocide 1080…less than 5000 left and 60 years of this toxin….that tells me it’s not working…how about an alternative to something that’s not only killing the Kea it’s killing the habitat of many endemic species.insect population has declined in drop zones…and you say your saving the birds…time to check yourselves doc…for the sake of our children and our beautiful unique country…surely someone in the department will stand up to this madness that is the 1080 gravy train on a collision course to hell.

    Cindy McArthur 18/12/2018 at 9:31 pm

    STOP DROPPING 1080 POISON AND KILLING EVERYTHING. There’s not going to be any wildlife, birds, insects etc for anyone to get near soon because you keep killing everything. Its a cruel inhumane way for any living thing to go through. And your damaging our ecosystem. Stop with the lies you arnt saving the birds your killing them. Leave nature alone, its survived without mans interference for years and years. BAN1080…WE ARNT GOING TO STOP UNTIL YOU STOP KILLING EVERYTHING.

    Hadyn james 18/12/2018 at 5:32 pm

    How about top of the dont list being DONT BLOODY PIOSON THEM WITH 1080.
    There are as many credible peer reviewed scientific papers which state poisoning has any positive effects on our bird populations and numerous studies and papers which show the damage it’s doing to our environment.
    And I realise you’ll delete this and block me from commenting as you have on your main Facebook page. But the people of New Zealand have a right to know the truth.

      Janice MacGillivray 04/03/2019 at 9:47 pm

      Totally agree with you Hayden,what a bunch of hypocrites! Don’t feed the birds because DoC want to feed them 1080!


    What a joke. How about you stop poisoning them with sodium monofluoroacitate compound 1080 in their thousands leaving them to die a cruel inhumane death that can take hours or days to die.
    Leaving the poisoned carcass’s to also kill.
    Seizures, incontinence, diorea, trembling, vomiting, vocalization, rapid breathing, convulsions, frothing at the mouth, violent activity, bleeding, ripping out their own stomachs, muscles ripped off the bones, running around in circles. HUMANE? ! Only a phycopath would agree!

    John Donnelly 18/12/2018 at 4:45 pm

    You’re poisoning our Land and animals….everything is dying a hideous death and you have the gall to tell people how to treat birds. You are a bad joke and when the World becomes aware of Your disgusting antics……tourism will cease to exist.