Wellington, November 3,2023
The wild kiwi population of Wellington is set to return from extinction.
The hillsides in the south and west of New Zealand’s capital city remain the prime habitat for kiwi, rampant with manuka and gorse shrubs that provide shelter and food for the bird.
But the single biggest threat to kiwi staging a comeback in Wellington is the presence of introduced predators, particularly stoats, ferrets and possums. But dogs are also a major predator threat.
In recent years, community conservation projects spearheaded by locals, iwi and landowners, working in partnership with New Zealand’s top kiwi conservation and pest control experts, have succeeded in pushing up the kiwi population in Wellington.
“By restoring a wild, sustainable population of kiwi to Wellington, we will make a significant contribution to saving our national symbol,” says Paul Ward, Capital Kiwi Project Founder.
As a result, the calls of the kiwi are now heard in the wilds of Wellington for the first time in 150 years.
“Aotearoa used to be home to millions of kiwi and now there are 68,000,” notes Michelle Impey, executive director of Save the Kiwi. She adds that “a lot of work needs to be done before kiwi are in the millions again, but we have confidence that one day soon the national kiwi population will shift from a decline into growth mode.”
Impey attributes the growth in kiwi numbers to “strong relationships with iwi, the Department of Conservation, community groups, local and national Government, and a lot of hard mahi.”
This conservation drive is focused on restoring “a large-scale wild kiwi population to Wellington’s backyard.”
“The kiwi is our icon and central to our identity, our culture. When key predator threats are removed and a community is on board as guardians, people and kiwi can successfully live together. Our commitment is to create a future where we share the land with the bird we take our name from,” Impey adds
Protecting the kiwi from predators, which is at the core of the conservation effort, involves setting traps. The traps target stoats, rats and ferrets.
The Capital Kiwi Project
The Capital Kiwi Project is New Zealand’s largest community-owned trapping initiative, working alongside locals, iwi and landowners, to restore the population of kiwi.
Since 2018, the project has collaborated with the Wellington City Council in setting up 4,500 traps over 24,000 hectares of Wellington’s western hills.
By 2021, with the trapping network fully established and a sharp decline in the predator population, the stage was set for the return of the kiwi to Wellington. The birds have been released into the wild in steadily increasing numbers.
“There’s 63 out west now and nearly 200 more to come. It’s an example of re-wilding at an epic scale that’s attracted notice,” Capital Kiwi Project’s Ward adds.
The Capital Kiwi Trust Board won the top prize at the 2023 Wellington Airport Regional Community Awards for Wellington City, for the “successful release and dispersal of sixty-three kiwi around Makara” last November as part of its project.
Kiwi trace back to two extinct bird species – the elephant birds of Madagascar and the Moa of New Zealand. They are also related to emus and cassowaries of Australia. Kiwi have a life-span between 25 and 50 years. Chicks leave the nest five days after being hatched to feed on their own.
Kiwi are flightless though they have wings.
On an average, 20 kiwi are killed by predators every week. Around 1,400 kiwi die nationally every year- a decline of 2%. As per official data 95% of kiwi die before reaching breeding age in areas that are not being managed. Around 50-60% of chicks survive in areas where predators are being controlled. A chick survival rate of 20% is needed for the kiwi population to increase.
Kiwi is taonga
Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau sums up the significance of the kiwi to New Zealanders.
“The kiwi is taonga in Aotearoa. It’s on our shirts, shoulders and shields, it’s what we’re called around the world, and it’s a national icon.”
Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington