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Kiwi capture

Kiwi capture

31 March 2022

The Maungatautari kiwi mahi is ramping up greatly as we move closer to the prime season for capturing kiwi. This year we are anticipating we will capture up to 60 kiwi to send to Tongariro national park to help bolster their North Island brown kiwi population. This is a rewarding moment in the history of Maungatautari Ecological Island as Tongariro gifted us many of the original founder population way back after the fence was first erected. So, to now finally come full circle to be in the position to gift back a significant number of kiwi is a massive milestone for the Maungatautari community.

In the years to come, we anticipate we will have to move more than double what we capture this year. Modeling suggests 135 removals per year will keep the population stable and productive. The focus this year is to test my operations plan that I have been pondering for the last 12 months.

Very briefly it will look like this:

  • Two or more conservation dog teams work at the same time in different areas of the maunga.
  • Only catching within 300 metres of the fence (quick access to the fence line to meet an awaiting vehicle ready for transporting the captured kiwi).
  • A base of operations where the kiwi will arrive and health screening can take place.
  • Temporarily keeping captured kiwi in the southern enclosure.
  • Kiwi moved to its new home within two weeks of initial capture.

By implementing this plan, the kiwi will only ever be handled twice; once on capture the day, and the second on the day of translocation. Despite the best intentions, kiwi aren't the biggest fans of being handled. The less stress we can impose on them the better.

It is likely that we will find kiwi that aren't quite big enough for translocation. Now that we have cleared the northern enclosure from all kiwi we can use this enclosure to keep these young manu. We will monitor them for six or so months then when they reach a good stoat proof weight they can continue their journey into the big wide world. This also gives the team a good head start on reaching our targets the following year.

Another initiative I have been working on is the use of live trapping. Every year we have many kiwi pacing the fence prior to breeding season. This behaviour is thought to be caused by kiwi trying to find new territory. Naturally, there is no kiwi calling outside the immediate sanctuary fence so to a kiwi’s ears that seems like a good direction to walk in. But of course, they walk into the fence and walk sideways along the fence looking for an exit that doesn’t exist.

What makes these kiwi ideal candidates potentially for capture is they are looking for territory, suggesting they are large enough to fight off pests in the real world and are clearly looking for new territory which we can assist in providing. I am currently trialing double-entry cat traps as other sanctuaries have accidentally caught kiwi while targeting a cat incursion. The camera footage showed the kiwi just went into a sentient mode and didn’t struggle at all which was my greatest fear in using such a device. 

It is the early days of the development of the method, but already I have documented kiwi snubbing their ‘nose’ at my devices which have been fascinating to observe. I have a list of modifications planned that I will roll out as I figure out the perfect trap set out to catch a kiwi. Once this is achieved, we will have cell network-connected trail cameras that will alert us to capture in our traps then first thing in the morning before the sun rises, we will retrieve the captured kiwi.

We are going to need some ‘hard core’ volunteers to assist the conservation dog teams this season and every season that is going to follow. These volunteers (aka runners) will gain kiwi handling skills and keep fit. The very bush-savvy individuals will trail the dog handlers and collect the kiwi they find. The runners will then hike the kiwi through the bush to the fence line where an awaiting vehicle will collect the kiwi and transport it back to the Tari Road visitor centre for health screening and transmitter attachment. If this sounds like you, please get in touch. This year you will be assisting either myself or another assistant as you learn the ropes and become familiar with the layout of the sanctuary. There will be some weekend work, but most will take place Monday to Friday.

A quick update on the releases so far this season. As of writing this article we have released 46 kiwi chicks since late October 2021, bringing our kiwi kohanga releases to 286 new founding kiwi since 1st October 2018.  The second clutch of kiwi chicks are beginning to arrive and we will break the 300 kiwi releases mark by the end of March.