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A delicate kiwi mission

Serena Richdale [on left] receiving a kiwi egg from Jess Flamy for transport back to the hatchery. PHOTOS/KAREN COLTMAN 

Pukaha National Wildlife Centre staff tramped into the bush this week to retrieve a kiwi egg. Times-Age reporter Karen Coltman went along to observe.

Kiwis are very good at hiding.

After tramping into the bush in search of a kiwi egg they knew was there, it took Pukaha National Wildlife Centre ranger Jess Flamy and volunteer Serena Richdale nearly an hour of searching around one tree to pinpoint Kakama the kiwi’s location.

Kiwis can burrow a couple of metres into a tree base.

It was already known he – the men do the sitting – was on an egg or two because a detecting device had earlier picked up a heartbeat at a pace that indicated this. The detector could also report he had settled in a different position.

But when the search equipment was close to the kiwi and giving off loud clicking sounds, the kiwi can be in any part of an area about three square metres.

Searching was totally silent – observing an eery sensation. The experience of standing still and being quiet while rangers looked for a kiwi, extraordinary. It feels very important not to cause a ripple or do anything that could put a kiwi life at risk.

The secret burrows kiwi make are where they sleep during the day, and sneak out at night to forage.

Flamy and Richdale know what they’re looking for – holes around trees a little smaller than a rugby ball and about the same shape. They shined torches down holes that didn’t have cobwebs over them as this could be a sign of a kiwi doorway.

Kiwi poo by the tree near where the clicks were loudest was not where Kakama was nesting.

Richdale holds Kakama while his burrow is searched for a second egg.

The rain began to come down harder and a looming sense of sadness crept up. If the kiwi wasn’t found, then the result could be the soon-to-hatch kiwi wouldn’t survive in the wild against predators, particularly large ferrets that just kill for the fun of it.

If it was found and the egg was retrieved, the chances were, in time, yet another kiwi would be released into the wild at an age when it has a much better chance of surviving and going on to breed successfully.

In the context of the six confirmed deaths of kiwi during lockdown, the importance of the Operation Nest Egg programme could not be overstated.

Finally, Flamy shone her torch down a hole in the tree next to their initial search area, where Kakama had nested on two eggs last season. There he was.

Saturated from head to toe, Flamy reached in to take the egg from under him, protected by thick gloves.

The precious egg was carefully handed over to Richdale who had the woollen sock ready to put over it before carefully placing it into a carry case lined with sponge.

Flamy went in again to check for another egg. To do this she had to bring Kakama out. There he was – the prolific, precious kiwi dad. After no more eggs were found, he was put back.

Tramping out brought an upbeat vibe – success was at hand. A lightness of being was in the air, elation and excitement too.

The endangered and highly vulnerable brown kiwi was getting yet another chance to get its population up to a sustainable level.

Flamy rushed Kakama and his partner’s egg off to the hatchery. It was placed in incubation and was expected to hatch in 10 days’ time.

As a partner to Kiwis for Kiwis ‘Operation Nest Egg’ programme, Pukaha has worked hard to turn around the population decline

Last year, more than 20 kiwi chicks were successfully hatched for conservation projects around the North Island and returned to their home reserves.

The Pukaha team is gearing up for another big season.

This Times-Age reporter thanks Pukaha National Wildlife Centre for allowing her the privilege of observing this special occasion.

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