Save the Kiwi’s Erin Reilly shares how her assumptions of our iconic kiwi have changed since getting to know them a little better.
Until recently, my entire experience of interacting with kiwi consisted of visiting Auckland Zoo and catching a glimpse of a dark, rotund shape shuffling around in the background of the kiwi house… if I was lucky.
It’s understandable, then, that I presumed kiwi were elusive, that there were hardly any of them, and that they didn’t live anywhere near the places I hung out.
When I started working for Save the Kiwi, I discovered that some of my assumptions were incorrect.
True: There are hardly any kiwi left
It’s true that there’s hardly any of them left, compared to how many there used to be. Before colonisation, Aotearoa was home to millions of kiwi. Today there’s an estimated 68,000. The national population is declining at a rate of around 2% annually, so while 68,000 might still seem like a lot, it isn’t when you consider how many will die – usually because of introduced predators – every year.
Here’s a shocking statistic for you: 95% of kiwi chicks that hatch in areas where there is no predator control will die before they reach breeding age. The wild is not safe for kiwi, despite it being their true home.
True: Kiwi can be elusive
Depending on where they live, it’s also true that kiwi can be elusive. They sleep during the day and roam when most of us go to bed, so it isn’t common to see them out and about while we’re on a bush walk.
False: Kiwi don’t live near humans
However, it’s not true that kiwi and humans live separately from each other. Some parts of Aotearoa New Zealand, especially Northland and Coromandel, are home to dense populations of kiwi. These unique birds can roam anywhere, not just in the bush, and can cross paths with humans and pets. A friend of mine’s grandparents used to live north of Kerikeri and once woke up to a kiwi rummaging through their pantry. On the sides of roads in the same area, there are signs warning people that kiwi sometimes cross the road at dusk so driver beware.
Unfortunately, there are also white crosses where kiwi have been killed by cars.
The kiwi is a very special and unique creature that we’ve adopted as our national icon. But given that numbers are continuing to decline, everyone has a responsibility to reverse that decline.
Funding the mahi
A huge amount of kiwi conservation is carried out by volunteers. While it’s important work, it’s also expensive work. Save the Kiwi works alongside the Department of Conservation Te Papa Atawhai to fund iwi- and community-led kiwi conservation groups all over New Zealand, so they can make a meaningful difference to the kiwi population in their neck of the woods.
Save the Kiwi Week is running October 10-16. It’s an opportunity to learn more about this iconic species, including what you can do to help them out.
Dogs are important members of many New Zealanders’ families. But our canine friends are also a major threat to adult kiwi.
Often, it’s not because a dog is badly-behaved; it’s because of the kiwi’s anatomy. Unlike birds that fly, the kiwi has a very fragile chest because it’s missing a breastplate to protect its internal organs. This means even just a gentle nudge from an inquisitive dog has the potential to fatally injure a kiwi, even if they’re just playing.
The best way dog owners can prevent their pooches from coming face to face with a kiwi is to keep them out of places where kiwi live – or might live. Leave your dog at home while you go out for a bush walk, or book a spot at a local kennel while you go on holiday to the Coromandel.
If you have to take Murphy into the bush with you, always keep him on a lead and under control. Even the most well-trained dogs might run off if they catch a whiff of a new and exciting scent.
If you have a working dog, like a hunting or farming dog, consider enrolling it in kiwi avoidance training. While it’s not a silver bullet, kiwi avoidance training is a useful tool for owners of “dogs with jobs” to deter their dogs from injuring or killing kiwi if they do go into areas where kiwi live. Visit www.kiwiavoidancetraining.nz for more information.
It’s a startling statistic so we’ll say it again: 95% of kiwi chicks that hatch in areas where there is no predator control will die before they reach breeding age.
The best way we can improve this figure is to implement more predator control around the country. And when kiwi are safe, the rest of the ngahere is safe too.
Whether you own a lot of land or just your backyard, visit www.predatorfreenz.org to find out how you can start using predator control at your place.
Since working for Save the Kiwi, I’ve learned that the kiwi is so much more than a quirky bird that appears on the $1 coin. It’s unique to Aotearoa, the heart of the forest, and so important to the Māori world view. The people who work to save the kiwi are a special bunch and are essential for the long-term survival of this taonga.
To learn more about Save the Kiwi’s work, head to www.savethekiwi.nz/savethekiwiweek
To learn more about DOC’s kiwi monitoring, head to https://www.doc.govt.nz/our-work/national-predator-control-programme/monitoring-results-for-native-species/kiwi-monitoring/