Home News Kiwi fruit makes a shocking comeback, but be cautious

Kiwi fruit makes a shocking comeback, but be cautious


Australian correspondence is the weekly newsletter from our Australian bureau. This week’s issue is written by Pete McKenzie, a journalist based in Auckland, New Zealand.

Catching kiwi was more challenging than I thought. Although the adult bird stands only two feet tall, it has piston-like legs and sharp claws. And, according to Will Kahu, a ranger with the conservation group Save the Kiwi, “They’re surprisingly active.”

He recalled a confrontation that ended with a kiwi leaping out of the air, kicking him in the chest and sprinting away as he fell to the ground.

Just like that, I found myself crouching safely in a fallen tree in Maungata Tutari Reserve, a fenced nature reserve on New Zealand’s North Island, while Mr Kahu and a few volunteers The other took out a bird from the hole in the rotting tree trunk beneath me.

“One leg, two legs – got it,” said sanctuary volunteer Dave Laithwaite as he groped in the mud of the kiwi’s cramped nest. He pulled the squirming bird out and held it like a baby to calm it down.

The population of New Zealand’s national bird, the kiwi, has rebounded thanks to conservation efforts. In 2005, several kiwi were placed at Maungata Tutari Reserve in a last-ditch effort to prevent them from being hunted to extinction by predators such as stoats and ferrets.

There are now more than 2,500 of these fiercely territorial birds living in the mountains of the reserve, but their living space is quickly running out. To ease the pressure, conservationists captured 209 kiwis last week and exported them to new homes across the country.

“This is the largest kiwi translocation ever recorded,” Mr Kahu said.

“My feeling is one of celebration,” said Bodie Taylor, a representative of the Native tribe who helps manage the reserve mountain. “Hearing them tangi” – cry – “seeing them running free opens your heart.”

What’s most striking is the way these flightless birds move: by plane.

After the hunt, I drove to Waikato Airport with a van full of squeaking birds.

“We’re here for the Sanctuary Mountain flight,” conservation ranger Steven Cox told the airport receptionist when we arrived.

The receptionist asked what the cargo was.

“New Zealanders,” Mr Cox said. The receptionist said she would call her manager.

Outside, two planes from an aviation club in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, taxied on the runway. Conservationists prefer transporting kiwis by air during long-distance migrations to minimize travel time and stress on the birds.

“This is so cool,” pilot Kay Foster-Yeager said as she helped load the birds onto the plane. “I never thought I would be exposed to kiwi fruit again in my life.”

New Zealand once had 12 million kiwis, but the species was devastated after humans introduced predators such as ferrets, rats and stoats. In areas with predators, less than 10% of hatchlings survive six months. There are still about 70,000 birds belonging to five species, mostly in fenced reserves or remote islands.

But strong efforts by government rangers, hunting volunteers and conservationists in protected areas such as Reserve Mountain have boosted the growth of some kiwi species. The reserve’s mountain species, the North Island brown kiwi, is expected to increase in number by 10 per cent over the next three generations.

This allows conservationists to take risks: Birds from the protected mountains will travel to unfenced reserves. While trapping has eliminated most predators from these reserves, the kiwi there are still at risk.

“We know some kiwis may die in the wild, but we have to build resilient kiwi populations,” said Michelle Bird, coordinator of Save the Kiwis. “We’re looking at the population level.”

I jumped into a plane with six birds on board. As we rattled along the track, I looked worriedly at the crates.

“This must be a strange experience for them,” I said.

“Yeah, I heard flying isn’t their strong point,” joked pilot Chris Forbes. He told me he laughed when the Wellington Aero Club asked for volunteers to help non-flying New Zealanders soar.

We fly between the snowy mountains of Ruapehu and Taranaki, then follow the coastline past Kapiti Island to Wellington. Below us lie vast fields with occasional towns and roads: the landscape has changed dramatically since New Zealanders roamed freely centuries ago, when much of the land was native forest.

“I didn’t hear the kiwi,” Mr Forbes said as we approached Wellington.

“I guess that’s a good sign,” I replied.

We landed without incident and pulled into a warehouse where six volunteers were waiting. Within minutes, the crates were loaded onto several cars and driven to the city’s western edge, where conservation group Capital Kiwi has spent five years establishing a predator-free zone.After kiwis are reintroduced to the area in 2022 breed there This is the first time in people’s memory.

Now, Sanctuary Mountain has sent 100 birds to the area to boost Wellington’s growing kiwi population. As night fell we unloaded the crates at Karori Golf Course, which is at the foot of the predator-free zone. At the final hole, a tribal representative released a kiwi into the native bush. As the kiwis scurried away, a native owl hooted under the stars.

“It brings hope,” Ms Bird said of the New Zealanders’ transfer. “Hope matters.”

Here are this week’s stories.

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