17 Dec 2018

Celebrity kiwi released into the wild

7:41 am on 17 December 2018

One of the nation's most famous kiwi was among four released onto Taranaki Maunga at the launch of the Kiwi Recovery Plan/Mahere Whakaora Kiwi 2018-2028 yesterday.

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Emma Bean from the Rainbow Springs Nature Park in Rotorua and Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage give Atara a final send off before he is released into the wild. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Atara, a five-year-old male, hatched while David Attenborough's cameras were rolling.

RNZ went along to see him embark on his latest adventure.

There were once about 12 million kiwi in New Zealand and it's now estimated there are just 66,000 left.

The fourth Kiwi Recovery Plan aims to reverse a 2 percent annual decline in their numbers and grow the kiwi population to 100,000 by 2030.

Key to achieving that will be large-scale predator control in the wild habitats where most kiwi live.

And also birds like Atara who, Emma Bean from the Rainbow Springs Nature Park in Rotorua explained, was already a bit of a celebrity.

"Atara is no stranger to the media. He hatched in front of the BBC film crew and his hatch footage has been used in David Attenborough films so he was quite a star early on in life."

Atara also appeared on television when the park celebrated its 1800th hatch, but Ms Bean said it was now time for Atara to give up PR and go forth and breed.

"I want them to be out here. The whole dream of the Kiwi Recovery Plan is to get as many kiwi back into the wild as possible, calling and doing what they're supposed to be doing.

"So they've played their part in kiwi conservation and advocated the plight of kiwi at Rainbow Springs. They've played that role and now they get to go out in the wild and produce more kiwi."

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Jennifer Germano said the biggest threat to juvenile kiwi is probably stoats, where as for adult kiwi it's likely dogs and ferrets. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Recovery Plan lead author Jennifer Germano said earlier versions had focused on bringing endangered species of kiwi back from the brink.

"And now that now that we've turned some of those really critically endangered species around and we've brought their numbers back up.

"Now we're trying to help kiwi as a whole. So looking at all five species across the country and what we need to raise all our kiwi numbers up nationally."

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Taranaki Kiwi Trust chairperson Sue Hardwick-Smith releases a kiwi into his new burrow in the Egmont National Park on Mt Taranaki. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Ms Germano said that means predator control.

"The biggest threat to juvenile kiwi is probably stoats, so only 5 percent of kiwi chicks survive to adulthood if they're out in the wild in a place that's not managed.

"Adult kiwi. The biggest threats are probably dogs and ferrets. And the dogs don't have to be really vicious hunting dogs, it could be any dog."

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Todd Jenkinson from the Zoo Aquarium Association carries a bird. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage, who launched the plan, said with modern trapping technologies and a collaborative approach she believed kiwi numbers could recover.

"Successive governments have invested in kiwi so we have seen the Haast tokoeka and rowi brought back from close to extinction and we've seen growth in kiwi populations in areas like Northland and Coromandel through sustained predator control.

"We need landscape predator control to ensure all five species can thrive."

Taranaki Kiwi Trust project manager Sian Potier organised the release.

She said Atara and his pals were most welcome on Mt Taranaki.

"Like most places in New Zealand kiwi numbers got quite low up here on the mountain and that was mainly to do with introduced predators especially stoats.

"It was estimated in the early 90s there were only 30-40 pairs left on up here on the mountain but since then the Taranaki Kiwi Trust has released over 100 kiwi and with this improved predator control we really hope to see the numbers going up."

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Eugenie Sage takes a turn carrying a kiwi through the bush. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Recent kiwi call surveys had recorded fewer birds in the national park so the next 20 kiwi released onto the mountain - including those released yesterday - would be electronically monitored to help get a better picture of their survival rates and their range.

Despite these concerns Ms Potier believed the 100,000 kiwi nationwide goal was possible.

"It's definitely viable and I think the key is predator control. If we can put these birds into area that are safe and their chicks can survive that's key to everything really."

There are almost 4000 predator traps set on Mt Taranaki with more planned to go in.

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