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Monumental kiwi release

The Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre team has done a special kiwi release that honours the historical link between the Tararua District and Poland.

This link dates back to World War II, when – in November 1944 – 733 Polish children and 105 accompanying adults who were seeking refuge from war-torn Europe were welcomed to Pahiatua.

As well as acknowledging this shared history, the release marked the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between New Zealand and Poland last year, when members of Rangitāne o Tamaki nui-ā-Rua and Rangitāne o Wairarapa iwi named the male kiwi that’s now been released Pōrana [which means Poland in te reo Māori] at a special ceremony.

Polish ambassador to New Zealand Grzegorz Kowal – who attended both last year’s naming ceremony and last week’s release event with his family – said it was “magnificent” to see Pōrana again and that he was profoundly moved by the bond between the two countries.

Although most of the Polish refugee children were supposed to return home after the war, he said, some remained in New Zealand due to their families having been killed during Germany’s invasion and occupation of Poland.

Those who stayed went to boarding schools and then found jobs, and there are now about 7000 of their descendants living in New Zealand.

“They are an important part of our community,” Kowal said.

He noted that the story of the children of Pahiatua was recently included in the mandatory New Zealand history curriculum.

Recalling last year’s naming event for Pōrana, Tararua Mayor Tracy Collins said, “From the outset, we got to experience the gratitude and joy of some of those Polish children”.

“It was a pretty amazing experience.

“We underestimated what that gift meant, and they actually had tears of joy.

“It was something special both for the Polish community but also for New Zealanders and especially for the whole Tararua District, including Pahitua and the reserve here.”

Collins said Pōrana is now a full-sized kiwi with an attitude.

“The enclosure wasn’t for him, and he wanted to be out in the wild.”

Pūkaha senior conservation ranger and technical advisor Tara Swan said the release was “very emotional” as well as “positive” because Pōrana will be able to live his “best life”.

“It is the most rewarding part of wrapping up the breeding season by releasing the birds,” she said.

“I tear up every time.

“I just imagine their little faces when they come out.”

Swan added that there hadn’t been a male kiwi in the reserve territory prior to the release, so Pōrana will have the females all to himself.

“It’s really exciting to see the wild kiwi programme kickstarting again,” she said.

Before his release, Swan gave Pōrana his final health check to ensure that he was “squeaky clean and ready to go” and that the transmitter attached to his foot was in working order.

Pōrana weighs 1.4 kilograms and is nearly fully grown at one and a half years old.

Students learning how to become rangers at UCOL Wairarapa in partnership with Pūkaha also attended the release.

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