Minister demands DOC explain kiwi deaths

4:20 pm on 2 October 2018

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage has asked for a report from the Department of Conservation (DOC) on why nine little-spotted kiwi died at a Hawke's Bay sanctuary.

Little spotted kiwi chick.

Nine kiwi died as a result of lack of monitoring and predator controls (file photo of little spotted kiwi). Photo: Andrew Digby / DOC

RNZ revealed yesterday the department had allowed the country's largest privately-owned conservation project, Cape Sanctuary, to show off kiwi to paying guests without a permit, despite concerns about the birds' welfare.

An internal report last year found that nine of the endangered birds had died from neglect at the Hawke's Bay site, which lacked adequate predator trapping and monitoring.

Ms Sage told Morning Report many businesses were now supportive of conservation efforts, but commercial partnerships should not undermine these.

"I've asked the department for a report on what happened at Cape Sanctuary and why the kiwi have died," Ms Sage said.

"I think there are a lot of commercial partnerships where it's all about 'mainstreaming' our conservation.

"We have a lot of businesses now that are really supportive of doing predator control and with their staff being involved as well, but where you get commercial partnerships where conservation principles are being undermined that obviously needs to be looked at."

Yesterday, Forest and Bird called for an independent review into the Department of Conservation's partnerships with businesses and private landowners to ensure the welfare of native species was at the forefront of any project.

Complaints to DOC blamed their death on the sanctuary's focus to provide Brown Kiwitours to guests at The Farm at Cape Kidnappers over pest control and monitoring.

"There had been concerns raised about the fact that there wasn't a permit for the handling of birds at the sanctuary ... everybody in the department seemed to know about it ... and nothing happened because senior management didn't want to rock the boat," Forest and Bird chief conservation advisor Kevin Hackwell said.

It was a situation that was happening all over the country, he said.

Cape Sanctuary now had a permit to conduct kiwi tours and with strict conditions that no guests were allowed to hold the birds.

However, DOC Hawke's Bay operations manager Connie Norgate told RNZ there was no need to review its commercial partnerships.

"We've worked really well with Cape Sanctuary to ensure everything's up to standard and I'm really happy with how everything's going," she said.

"I'm not sure that any kind of review is going to help."

She rejected the reports of neglect, which she said were based on opinion rather than fact.

"Obviously the drought would have played a pretty big part in that. It was a pretty dry summer in 2016 when the deaths happened, so it could well have been that."