Michelle Impey, Save the Kiwi Executive Director
Can you imagine a New Zealand without the kiwi? Neither can we. But dogs, stoats, ferrets, and other pests are doing all they can to get rid of the kiwi from the wild.
Meet “Tupei”. She/he (we don’t know yet if it’s gender yet so let’s just call the kiwi a she for now) is a North Island brown kiwi. She was delivered to the Crombie Lockwood Kiwi Burrow in Taupo from Cape Sanctuary to be cared for. Don’t worry, her feathers will grow back; she had an overzealous dad who went overboard with the preening.
“Tupei” is lucky to have been born in Cape Sanctuary, a predator free Kōhanga Kiwi site near Napier. An egg that hatches in an area with no predator control only has around 5% likelihood of making it to adulthood. Do the math and that equals 95% of all kiwi that hatch in the wild are killed before they reach adulthood. The main culprit? Stoats.
When “Tupei” can fend for herself, she’ll be released back to Cape Sanctuary where she’ll live the rest of her days in predator-free bliss. She and other chicks that are lucky enough to originate in pest-free and predator-controlled areas have a significantly better chance at making it to breeding age than the birds that are left to nature’s devices.
The danger of the wild
Nearby Pohokura is part of a 24,000-hectare forest, privately owned and managed by the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust. There is an extensive trap network on the ground, and for the next decade at least there will be three-yearly 1080 operations. This is the gold standard of pest control and gives kiwi chicks that are lucky enough to call this place home a great chance at thriving.
But even with all of this, kiwi that live at Pohokura are not out of the woods just yet. With warming summers, rabbit numbers are increasing, and with them, ferrets. A ferret is a killing machine. In 2018, at least 10 ferrets were killed by ferrets in the Tongariro Forest in the space of just a few months. When adult birds are killed and taken out of the breeding population, ferrets can have a devastating effect on future kiwi populations.
To combat the impact of ferrets, DOC 250 traps are deployed. These hefty traps can take out an animal the size of a ferret which is good news for not only kiwi but also other wildlife that roams the forest.
Any dog can kill a kiwi
That leaves dogs: feral dogs, hunting dogs, and pet dogs. Any dog, any size, any breed, and no matter the obedience level has the potential to kill a kiwi. Recently two wild dogs, confirmed to be the same dogs sighted in Whirinaki in July, took up residence in nearby Maungataniwha Forest. It’s unknown the damage they did while they were running wild for six months, but it can’t have been good.
In 1987, one roaming German Shepherd in Waitangi Forest is thought to have killed over 500 kiwi. One dog. It’s easy for a dog to kill a kiwi. Because they’re flightless, kiwi lack a sternum which makes it incredibly easy for them to suffer fatal crush injuries. A nudge from a nose or one chomp is all it takes.
We know they damage dogs can do to kiwi. In Northland, the average life expectancy of adult kiwi is reduced from 50 to only 14 years due to the threat of dogs.
Creating kiwi-safe habitat
Kiwi are long-lived birds and extremely adaptable. Ruud “The Bugman” Kleinpaste who is also a trustee for Save the Kiwi has a theory that kiwi actually aren’t forest birds at all, and he may be right! They thrive in pine forest, in beach habitat and even on farmland – anywhere there is food and safety from jaws and claws.
On Purerua Peninsula in the Bay of Islands, landowners at Mataka Station have been undertaking pest control for decades. The kiwi population is thriving and is likely the highest density of kiwi anywhere on the mainland. The kiwi roost in the pockets of vegetation during the day, and come out to the paddocks to feed at night, flipping over cow pats to find the tasty bugs beneath.
There are an estimated 68,000 kiwi left in all of Aotearoa New Zealand. Compared to the likes of takahē and kākāpō, that is a lot. But compared to what we had a few hundred years ago, it is a tiny fraction. We have lost millions of kiwi and if nothing was to be done, we’d lose them all from the wild.
From endangered to everywhere
The kiwi has many challenges, but we have reason to hope – a lot of reasons, actually. Across Aotearoa, hundreds of community-led and Māori-led conservation groups are protecting hundreds of thousands of hectares of kiwi habitat. Eggs are being collected for incubation, and dogs are being trained to avoid kiwi.
Where there is work being done, kiwi numbers increase. Here then is the bald truth about kiwi conservation: we have to choose between the rats, stoats, and ferrets, or our native taonga such as the kiwi. We have to choose whether letting our cats roam at night and letting our dogs run free through kiwi habitat is more important than our taonga species.
It takes a lot of people – and a lot of money – to save kiwi, but it can be done.
But it is going to take all hands on deck if we are going to ensure our national icon, the kiwi, has a place in Aotearoa forever.
How you can help
Are you a dog owner? Make sure it doesn’t meet a kiwi. Don’t take it into bush or areas where kiwi (or other threatened wildlife) live. Kiwi avoidance training for dogs can help but it’s not a guarantee.
Do pest control on your land or volunteer to help a group that is doing pest control near your place. Visit predatorfreenz.org to find out what’s happening near you.
Donate funds. There is an army of people out there willing to do the mahi but usually they operate on a very limited budget. Support them financially so they can afford the equipment they need and pay and retain quality people to work for them.
The future is bright
“Tupei” and her friends have a bright future ahead of them, if all New Zealanders work together to help create more kiwi-safe habitat. Visit www.savethekiwi.nz to find out how you can join the mission to save the kiwi or make a tax-deductible donation.