By Erin Reilly from Save the Kiwi
Dogs are important members of many New Zealand families.
But as friendly and well-trained as most of them are, dogs are also one of the biggest threats to adult kiwi.
Dogs & kiwi don’t mix
In 1987, just one German Shepherd is thought to have killed over 500 kiwi (yes, 500 … that’s not a typo) in Waitangi Forest. In February 2021, five kiwi were found dead on the Purerua Peninsula in the Bay of Islands and autopsy reports confirmed a dog attack. And in July 2021, a kiwi was killed by a dog on conservation land in Taranaki then thrown down a bank to hide the evidence.
The kiwi anatomy plays against them
The kiwi’s anatomy is a major reason why they’re so vulnerable to dogs. Because they don’t fly, kiwi don’t have a breastbone to protect their internal organs like other birds do. This means that even the gentlest nudge from an inquisitive pooch has the potential to fatally injure them, even if the dog is only playing.
Kiwi sleep during the day and can’t fly which means they’re essentially a sitting duck to predators. If they come face to face with a dog in the bush, kiwi can’t escape. For dogs that enjoy the chase, chasing a small brown creature that smells interesting could be very tempting.
Injuries caused by dogs can result in a long, drawn-out, painful death for kiwi. Damaged internal organs can cause extensive internal bleeding. Despite a kiwi having a strong kick when provoked, a dog can easily snap their legs too.
“But my dog is well-trained, he wouldn’t hurt a kiwi.”
Regardless of its size, breed, temperament, or training, any dog has the potential to kill a kiwi.
For many dog owners, this is hard to swallow. Some dog owners take offence because they think this statement implies that they’re a bad owner or that their dog is unruly. In fact, in many cases where dogs kill kiwi, it’s purely accidental because the dog was only trying to play, and the anatomy of the kiwi doesn’t do it any favours.
Let’s not forget that all breeds of dog come from a long line of hunters. This means that even the most gentle and well-behaved pooch could become uncontrollable when they smell an interesting scent – especially if it’s one they’ve never smelled before.
How to make sure your dog never meets a kiwi
Not all dogs will chase a kiwi – but it pays to be prepared, just in case. Here are six easy strategies that responsible dog owners can implement to ensure even the most well-behaved dog doesn’t come face to face with a kiwi.
- Do your research. Before you go on holiday or take Teddy, Bingo, Shadow, or Ralph on a bush walk, find out if kiwi live near where you’re heading. Many people, especially those who live in urban areas, have no idea that kiwi live very close to humans and other animals, particularly the North Island. Holiday hotspots like Northland and the Coromandel are home to dense populations of kiwi that live alongside residents and tourists alike.
- Leave your dog at home. If kiwi do live where you’re heading, consider booking a kennel, organising a pet-sitter, or leaving Pepper with a friend. Not all dogs will chase a kiwi if they pick up an interesting scent, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Keep your dog under control. If you do decide to take Murphy with you, keep him under control at all times. This means keeping him on a lead when you’re out and about, making sure your home or bach is securely fenced so he can’t go wandering, or keeping him tied up or inside if you have to. Especially if your holiday destination is foreign to your dog, it could be very tempting for it to explore.
- Obey the signs. If you come across a sign that says dogs are prohibited from going any further, don’t assume that because your dog is well-trained that the signs don’t apply to you. Turn around and take your dog home. In most cases, those signs indicate that protected species like kiwi live beyond them.
- Find a dog-friendly walking track. If you want to take Fido or Spot on an outdoor adventure, check the DOC website for dog-friendly walking tracks. These tracks are being increasingly popular, so you’re almost guaranteed to find one near where you’re holidaying.
- Kiwi avoidance training. Dogs and kiwi should never meet. But just in case they do, kiwi avoidance training could help protect the kiwi. Find out more about kiwi avoidance trainers near your place here.
What to do if your dog attacks a kiwi or if you find a dead kiwi
If the unthinkable happens and your dog does come across a kiwi and harm it, or if you discover an injured or dead kiwi, please call the Department of Conservation Te Papa Atawhai on 0800 DOC HOT as soon as possible.
Enjoy your break – but remain vigilant
It’s been a challenging year already so all New Zealanders deserve a long weekend break. Before you head away, find out how to make sure your dog never meets a kiwi here.
Find out where you can take your dog on public conservation land.
Learn more about Save the Kiwi and their mahi.
HI Sabine, You don’t mention needing a dog permit for the walks on public conservation land that allow dogs. A very integral part of the messaging! Also during contact with the DOC staff that issue permits, we can help educate dog owners. Perhaps even give them a link to your article as it was very informative.
Some dog owners take offence because they think this statement implies that they’re a bad owner or that their dog is unruly. In fact, in many cases where dogs kill kiwi, it’s purely accidental because the dog was only trying to play. Most pig dogs have gps trackers these days. I’d be more worried about stray dogs gone bush or domestic dogs that go rogue and kill sheep amongst other things.
I totally agree. One dog alone could wipe out a whole kiwi population. But are you targeting responsible dog owners who have put their dogs through kiwi aversion training and have them in sight at all times …..or hunters and others who allow their dogs to wander off on their own?
Different messaging needed for the latter group.?