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  • Writer's pictureForest Lifeforce

Kiwi home-swap deepens the gene pool

Collaboration highlights complex nature of NZ conservation

Eight young North Island Brown kiwi switched Bays today in a home-swapping story that illustrates perfectly the complex scientific, collaborative private/public partnership that kiwi conservation has become. Two young males and two young females from the Forest Lifeforce Restoration (FLR) Trust’s Maungataniwha Native Forest in inland Hawke’s Bay set off for their new home in the Whirinaki Forest Park in neighbouring Bay of Plenty, and were replaced by four birds from there.

Although in different provinces the Whirinaki and Maungataniwha forests are only about 25 km apart. The transfer will boost the genetic diversity of both projects’ kiwi population as the birds that have been put back into both forests through Operation Nest Egg have been the offspring of fewer than 15 breeding pairs, with most coming from just a few good breeders.

“Without this human-induced genetic dispersal in-breeding may eventually result,” said Sarah King, protected species ranger at DOC’s Te Urewera Area Office. “This would lead to reduced health among the birds and the potential for populations to fall victim to disease, which in turn could have catastrophic results.”

King said it was important to preserve the genetic purity of kiwi by only moving birds within their taxa range. This would ensure that genetic traits evolved by eastern kiwi would remain in the population. Both forests are within the eastern North Island brown kiwi taxa area which includes East Coast, Bay of Plenty and Hawke’s Bay.

The Whirinaki Kiwi Project, a drive to boost population numbers in the forest, has until now been part-funded by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and its four birds were handed over to the FLR Trust by King. The Maungataniwha kiwi were collected as eggs by the FLR Trust and incubated, hatched and checked at Kiwi Encounter in Rotorua.

They were crèched and monitored at Cape Sanctuary just south of Napier as part of the Maungataniwha Kiwi Project, a joint initiative by the FLR Trust and the sanctuary to secure and enhance the kiwi populations both there and in the Maungataniwha Native Forest.

“Today’s swap demonstrates clearly the highly inter-connected nature of the thing that kiwi conservation has become,” said FLR Trust Chairman Simon Hall. “It's a model that we hope to apply to other endangered birds, such as kokako.”

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