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Major milestone in kiwi conservation

Major milestone in kiwi conservation

26 June 2023

We have come to the end of our kiwi translocation season and what a season it has been. A major milestone was reached in our kiwi conservation. It was just 18 years ago when the first kiwi were released onto Maungatautari, the first kiwi to live there in over a century.

In 2005, Ngāti Hikairo ki Tongariro, one of the mana whenua of Tongariro, gifted four one-month-old chicks, two males and two females, to Ngāti Korokī Kahukura. Prior to this, the impacts of deforestation and predation from introduced predators like stoats had decimated the original population of kiwi that once lived on Maungatautari. With the addition of around 70 founding kiwi over the years, and more recently a further 330 kiwi chicks through the Save the Kiwi Kōhanga strategy, they have thrived beyond all expectations in our protected area; so much so that estimates suggest more than 2,000 kiwi call Maungatautari home today.

Over the past few incredibly busy months, progeny from founding kiwi have been transferred from Maungatautari to other safe areas to increase population numbers or to form new populations. In April this year, the first kiwi to leave Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari were released into the foothills of Tongariro, joining an established kiwi population – the same place those first four members of the founding population originally came from. In May, another 50 kiwi were released into the hills of Mākara, southwest of Wellington. These birds are helping to create a new population of kiwi in another area where kiwi were locally extinct until just a few months ago. 

Maungatautari offers the ideal conditions for kiwi to thrive, and the incredible success rate which Maungatautari has shown for kiwi breeding means that in future several hundred kiwi will graduate from Maungatautari each year and will be returned back to safe places in the North Island, bolstering existing populations or creating new ones.

Here is a snapshot of some of the specific processes involved in kiwi translocations:

  • Specially trained kiwi dogs and their handlers go into the sanctuary to search for kiwi.
  • Each kiwi that’s found is given an extensive health check by a team of accredited kiwi handlers with veterinary support.
  • Suitable birds are fitted with transmitters, then re-released into a large, fenced-off portion of the sanctuary where they will continue to roam until moving day.
  • On moving day, kiwi rangers use aerials to locate each kiwi with a transmitter. The birds are given another health check, then they’re gently placed into purpose-built wooden transportation boxes and loaded into vehicles to start the journey to their new home.
  • How long they’ll be in vehicles depends on the destination. In April, kiwi being transported to Tongariro enjoyed a two-hour drive. In May, birds heading to Wellington went on an six-hour drive, carefully driven by staff and volunteers.

Daily fieldwork is also carried out by our skilled teams of operations rangers, biosecurity rangers, biodiversity rangers, and associated volunteer teams. These teams work hard to maintain the integrity of our pest-proof fence, carry out pest control, and carry out a variety of skilled fieldwork relating to species management plans. 

This year’s success story is the result of two decades of mahi on Maungatautari and is a testament to the hard work and dedication of all involved. We acknowledge all those who have been and continue to be part of this incredible collaboration and thank gifting and receiving iwi, staff, volunteers, landowners, community, supporters, and donors both past and present, helping to take kiwi from endangered to everywhere with Save the Kiwi and Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari. Without the daily work of staff and volunteers in the field looking after Maungatautari’s significant ecosystems and the ongoing support of all of these people and organisations, such outcomes wouldn’t be possible. Success of the kiwi on Maungatautari highlights the importance of collaboration and the dedication and passion that it takes to protect not only kiwi, but all of the species that currently and could potentially call Maungatautari home.

Save the Kiwi is fundraising now for the 2024 kiwi translocation season, planning for another 300 kiwi to be transferred from Maungatautari to other safe habitats.

Read more in the story Kiwi return to their whenua after boosting population elsewhere