Why kiwis are hatched in captivity
Kiwis are the iconic and well-loved bird of New Zealand, and unfortunately are endangered – all five species of them.
There are approximately 70,000 kiwis throughout the country, both in the wild and in captivity, and the goal is to boost those numbers to ensure future generations can enjoy seeing this beautiful bird as we do.
Threats to the kiwi include everything from dogs to stoats and rats to humans, which is why it can be so hard to ensure the safety of our national bird.
Both cats and stoats prey on kiwi chicks in particular, with stoats responsible for an estimated 50 per cent of all kiwi chick deaths on the mainland. In fact, without the intervention of conservation efforts from humans, only one in ten kiwi chicks born in the wild will survive.
This is why kiwis are commonly hatched in captivity, as it gives them a far greater chance of survival when their habitat is free from predators. This way, the survival rate of a kiwi chick is around 50-60 per cent.
Even just getting to the stage of hatching is a slow process. There is usually just one clutch of one egg each year, and the incubation period lasts between 70 and 85 days. Once hatched, it takes a juvenile up to five years to reach adult size.
In order to organise the effort to help kiwis hatch and grow, the Department of Conservation introduced five new sanctuaries around New Zealand dedicated to the cause. These are; the Whangarei Kiwi Sanctuary, the Moehau Kiwi Sanctuary on the Coromandel Peninsula, the Tongariro Kiwi Sanctuary near Taupo, the Okatiro Kiwi Sanctuary, and the Haast Kiwi Sanctuary. At Moehau, for example, the team has been able to double the population of the Coromandel brown kiwi under their care in the last ten years.
Sanctuaries aren’t the only operations in place for New Zealand’s youngest kiwis, however. A conservation plan called Operation Nest Egg is one in which kiwi eggs and chicks are taken from the wild and cared for in captivity until they are a little older and a little bigger and better able to fend for themselves. This way, the kiwis have as much as a 65 per cent chance of surviving until adulthood.
There are a number of zoos involved in Operation Nest Egg, such as Auckland Zoo, which has very recently celebrated its third hatch of the year as part of the scheme. The egg was one of four taken from the Coromandel area, and once it puts on a little weight, it will be released to Rotorua Island in the Hauraki Gulf, which is predator-free and therefore will give the kiwi a good chance of survival.
We’re lucky enough to see a kiwi more often than not on our night-time tours to the open sanctuary at Tawharanui Regional Park. Here, a predator-proof fence keeps the pests and predators out, which allows our fantastic kiwi – and other rare endemic bird species – to thrive.
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist