Reintroducing wild kiwi to Wellington within the next five years is no doubt an ambitious plan but it's also achievable, says Paul Stanley Ward, the founder and leader of the conservation project Capital Kiwi which launched this week.
Makara resident Ted Smith (90) marked the launch by securing the first Capital Kiwi predator trap on Wellington's south coast.
The trap is the first of 4,400 which will eventually cover the 23,000-hectare piece of land on the south-west corner of the North Island which Capital Kiwi hopes to make safe for kiwi.
The project is working to a five-year plan in which conversations can be had with the Department of Conservation's Kiwi Recovery Group about releasing kiwi in three years' time if Capital Kiwi can demonstrate to them that the kiwi's primary predators – stoats and ferrets – are under control on the proposed site.
The elimination of stoats has been achieved on New Zealand's fifth largest island Resolution Island, in a project area similar in size to Capital Kiwis', says DOC Conservation Advisor Paul 'Scratch' Jansen.
On Resolution Island, DOC placed one stoat trap in every 6 hectares or so over the 21,000-hectare island and the stoats succumbed relatively quickly, Jansen tells Kathryn Ryan.
For the first time, Capital Kiwi is using that same trapping ratio on the mainland – in their case with a combination of Bluetooth-enabled Goodnature A24 traps (to target stoats) and high-powered DOC 250 traps (to target ferrets).
Three years is a realistic amount of time for Capital Kiwi to clear the area of predators, Jansen says, and new trapping techniques being developed by ZIP (Zero Invasive Predators) will hopefully speed things up even further.
The idea of restoring kiwi to Wellington was first proposed a couple of years ago after local conservation group Polhill Protectors were inspired by the return of nesting kākā and saddleback (tīeke) in the wild in Wellington for the first time in over a century.
"Someone said 'what about kiwi? and Scratch said 'why not?' in that classic 'just climbed Everest' Kiwi kinda way."
Jansen, who Ward describes as a "Kiwi conservation veteran", told the group that, based on his experience, it would take five years.
And Capital Kiwi was underway.
The minimum chick survival rate for a developing kiwi population is 20 percent, Ward says, so the first thing Capital Kiwi must do is create a habitat to support that.
"In areas where they're unprotected, only four or five [kiwi] out of every hundred chicks make it to adulthood.
"In areas where there's pest control and community have got on board as kaitiaki [environmental guardians] you can get those numbers up to 20 percent plus."
In order to make a "big enough chunk" of land predator-free, Capital Kiwi had to get consent from both public and private landowners such as Meridian Energy and Terawhiti Station to lay the traps on their property.
When it comes to the conservation of native species, this kind of community action on predator control has really changed the game, Jansen says.
"Now everybody is going 'hey, this is important, this is what we want for New Zealand, we're prepared to put our time and effort in to support DOC to do this.
"The rewards are kiwi, the rewards are kōkako, the rewards are kākā and tūī flying around in peoples' backyards.
"It's just amazing what people are doing now and it's really really impressive."
Jansen says that once the stoats and ferrets are no longer a threat, kiwi would do fine in the south-west North Island as they can thrive in all sorts of habitat – from the coast right up to the snowline and above.
"They are really really tough so we don't think there are going to be any issues at all as far as kiwi survivorship … It's really the stoat issue that needs to be solved."
In general, stoats are a much bigger threat to kiwi than dogs, he says.
"What we've seen in places like Northland is that if we control stoats the impact of dogs does not drive kiwi populations back.
"While there may be some losses to dogs they would not be as significant as if there were stoats in the equation so the population will still drive forward."
Which species of kiwi would be introduced to the Wellington area is yet to be decided, Jansen says, but it would likely be either the Okarito brown kiwi or the North Island brown kiwi.
The highly threatened Okarito brown kiwi (aka rowi) is the species that lived in the Wellington area in the past, while the North Island brown kiwi – the most common species – has recently been established is doing well in the nearby Rimutaka Ranges, he says.
Paul Ward encourages people interested in Capital Kiwi's work to follow the project on Facebook – or even get involved themselves.
"Get an A24 trap in your backyard and be a part of the mission to bring our namesake back home."