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Chick home after narrow escape

A Wairarapa wildlife breeding facility can breathe a sigh of relief as its 122nd kiwi chick returns home after a life-threatening infection.

On April 7, the chick hatched at Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre that’s been designated ‘MB122’ became ill and was taken to Massey University’s Wildbase Hospital eight days later.

Pūkaha biodiversity manager Christine Reed said that young kiwi had to fight an infection and underwent intensive treatment for 18 days, narrowly avoiding the need for surgery.

The one-month-old kiwi was then returned to its Mt Bruce home at Pūkaha on May 3 and received special care in isolation, she said.

“We are pleased to report that he/she recovered well and is back at Pūkaha eating well and putting on weight, and now transferred into our nocturnal house where visitors can see the young kiwi.”

Kiwi MB122 was born with a tuft of white feathers on its head and side, a combination of its brown kiwi mother, Manawa, and white kiwi father, Mapuna.

“It is difficult to sex kiwi at a young age, but we will know the answer to that once we have carried out a DNA test using feathers and as the bird grows and begins calling,” Reed said.

“Males and females have different bill lengths, with females’ being longer, and different calls – females are more raspy and guttural, while males are higher pitched and shrill.”

Since October last year, Pūkaha has hatched five North Island brown kiwi [Apteryx mantelli] from one captive breeding pair.

Kiwi have been released into Pūkaha’s 942ha ngahere [forest] since the start of the new millennium.

However, the wild kiwi population had taken several “hits”, Reed said, due to ferret predations, and there are now fewer in the forest.

“Our latest estimate is around 10 wild birds,” she said.

“We have found wild-bred birds in some unexpected spots out there, so we do know that there is at least one breeding pair doing well.

“Without intensive predator management, only around 5 per cent of eggs hatched in the wild survive to adulthood.

“Kiwi have been bred at Mount Bruce since the early days of the Wildlife Service [which was part of the Department of Internal Affairs] in the 1960s, and we have held captive birds since.”

Reed said a charity called Save the Kiwi leads a national programme called Operation Nest Egg and takes eggs from the wild for artificial incubation and rearing before the birds are released back into the wild.

“At Pūkaha we have also taken eggs from our ngahere, then hatched and reared them in captivity for release back into the forest,” she said.

“In the past, we have also hatched and reared eggs from Save the Kiwi that have then gone for release back to their source sites at Maungatautari, Kāweka Forest Park, and Remutaka Forest Park.

“The closest other populations are in the Remutukas, as part of the 2010 translocation from Hauturu, and more recently in Wellington, with the return to the West Coast of Makara as part of the “Capital Kiwi Project”.”

There are 15 captive breeding facilities across New Zealand that host kiwis, ranging from one pair to the largest population of 16 at the Otorohanga Kiwi House.

“Pūkaha has a moderate-sized population compared with others,” Reed said.

There are about 70,000 kiwi nationwide – 26,000 North Island brown, 450 rowi, 30,000 tokoeka [southern brown], 1900 little spotted and 15,000 great spotted, she said.

In New Zealand, five species of kiwi have conservation statuses ranging from ‘recovering’ to ‘nationally critical’.

Department of Conservation leads the Kiwi Recovery Group in managing the genetics and transfer of kiwi nationally.

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