Seven out of every 10 viable kiwi eggs lifted from a Hawke’s Bay forest during the 2018/2019 breeding season have resulted in juvenile birds that are being returned to the forest this year. The eggs were recovered as part of the nation-wide Operation Nest Egg (ONE) initiative, where they’re retrieved from nests, then incubated and hatched under specialist care.
Of 62 viable eggs that were taken for incubation from the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust’s property in the Maungataniwha Native Forest adjacent to Te Urewera Park, 45 (72.6 percent) resulted in birds that hatched and were reared in predator-proof areas to a size where they could safely be released back into the forests from where their eggs were taken.
This contrasts starkly with the five percent chance that kiwi have of making it to adulthood if their eggs are left in the bush unprotected against predators.
Eggs from Maungataniwha are incubated at The National Kiwi Hatchery in Rotorua. Most of the resulting chicks are reared within a predator-proof enclosure at Cape Sanctuary near Napier, which employs two full-time kiwi staff, trappers and a project manager specifically to enable this work. Others are reared at The National Kiwi Hatchery or at the Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre at Mt Bruce in the Wairarapa. They stay here until they are large enough to fend for themselves and can be released back into the wild.
Not all kiwi taken from Maungataniwha as eggs make their way back to that forest. Previously some have been released at Cape Sanctuary, Otanewainuku, the Whirinaki, the Kaweka Ranges and into captive breeding programmes.
All of the Maungataniwha kiwi from the 2018/2019 ONE season will be released either there or on the Trust’s nearby 11,400ha Pohokura property. It detailed recently a $411,000 plan to re-establish a viable population of kiwi at Pohokura by releasing up to 200 birds there between 2019 and 2024.
FLRT is fast carving out a name for itself as one of the most prolific and successful kiwi conservation initiatives in the country. It recently released back into the wild its 300th kiwi reared over 11 seasons. It said last month that it has a raft of new kiwi to add to its breeding and recovery work after a successful ‘prospecting’ exercise at Maungataniwha in May. Ten volunteers identified eight new breeding pairs, two breeding pairs that were already known about and five new male birds. These will now all be tagged and added to the egg retrieval work that the Trust does as part of ONE.
Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust (FLRT) forest manager Pete Shaw said the Trust’s work with kiwi could not happen without the help and investment from its conservation partners, particularly the Cape Sanctuary, the National Kiwi Hatchery and its funder Ngai Tahu, the Department of Conservation and Kiwis for kiwi, the only national charity dedicated to protecting kiwi.
“This is absolutely a partnership of equals,” Mr Shaw said. “The complex equation that lets us all grow heaps of young kiwi to put back into our forests just wouldn’t work if one of the elements wasn’t there. Our partners are all dedicated conservation professionals who do an astounding job, often for little recognition or reward other than knowing that they’re doing something worthwhile.”
In addition to the Maungataniwha Kiwi Project the Trust runs a series of native flora and fauna regeneration projects. These include a drive to increase the wild-grown population of Kakabeak (Clianthus maximus), an extremely rare type of shrub, and the re-establishment of native plants and forest on 4,000 hectares currently, or until recently, under pine.