Conservation Minister Maggie Barry says 11 of New Zealand’s rarest kiwi have been returned home to the Haast Kiwi Sanctuary today.
“These young tokoeka kiwi were removed from Haast before they hatched and taken to the West Coast Wildlife Centre. The young chicks were then moved to Orokonui Ecosanctuary or Willowbank Wildlife Sanctuary to learn to forage before being moved to Predator Free Rona Island,” Ms Barry says.
“Today’s home-coming is a milestone in the programme to increase tokoeka kiwi numbers from the low of 300 in the early 2000s to a population now of more than 400. Without protection from stoats, 95% of tokoeka chicks would be killed.”
“The community event today is the first opportunity many Haast residents would have had to view a kiwi since work to protect the endangered birds started.”
DOC rangers and researchers working with the tokoeka discovered it needs to weigh more than other kiwi chicks before it can be safely released into the wild.
“A tokoeka kiwi chick raised in captivity needs to weigh at least 1600g before it can fend off introduced predators. Other kiwi species can be released safely once they reach 1100 – 1200g. That’s why until recently placing the kiwi on predator free islands to breed was preferred for increasing the population”.
“One of the birds released today was named Ben by Haast Primary School students, who saw him as a 52 day old egg in September 2014, directly after he was removed from the sanctuary,” Ms Barry says.
The birds were welcomed back to Haast by DOC staff, Te Rūnanga o Makaawhio and the public in an event hosted by the Haast Heartland World Heritage Hotel.
They are being released into areas within the Haast Kiwi Sanctuary, and their progress will be monitored over the next year.
The Haast tokoeka kiwi and its relative, the Okarito rowi kiwi are New Zealand’s rarest kiwi species.