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Record numbers for Hawke’s Bay kiwi conservation programme

The Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust has returned a record 53 juvenile kiwi to the Hawke’s Bay hinterland following its 2020/2021 egg-lifting season, up nine on its previous best. The result follows a disappointing season last year in which dry conditions resulted in kiwi right across the North Island producing fewer eggs than normal.

Conditions at the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust’s property in the Maungataniwha Native Forest during the second half of the season mirrored those of last year, dry and difficult for breeding kiwi. The number of eggs collected during this period was similar to the same time last year, significantly lower than in previous years.

Despite this the Trust was able to send 63 viable eggs to the incubation unit at the National Kiwi Hatchery in Rotorua over the full course of the season. Its previous record was 62 viable eggs in a season.

Trust staffer and ‘kiwi whisperer’ Barry Crene was pleased with the results.

“We have invested significantly in, and put a lot of effort into, catching and radio-tagging new kiwi at Maungataniwha. This has yielded excellent results in what would otherwise have been another disappointing year,” he said.

The trust now has 61 ‘tagged’ kiwi at Maungataniwha. It achieved a self-sustaining population level there in 2017, and has since been using juveniles taken from Maungataniwha to stock its second property, Pohokura, mid-way between Taupo and Napier. It aims to release up to 200 kiwi there by 2024. The first, the 300th bird resulting from the trust’s conservation work, was released in 2019.

Re-establishing kiwi at Pohokura supports the long-term goal of the national Kiwi Recovery Plan; to reach 100,000 kiwi by 2030 through growing populations of all kiwi species by at least two percent a year, restoring them to their former distribution and maintaining their genetic diversity.

Eastern brown kiwi are the least managed and fastest declining of the four regional populations. Establishing a population of around 100 pairs within five years at Pohokura will make a significant contribution towards the recovery of this species, Trust Chairman Simon Hall said.

For the first three years a sample of kiwi released each year at Pohokura will be fitted with radio-transmitters so that their dispersal and survival can be monitored.

Mr Hall said he hoped Pohokura would ultimately help re-populate neighbouring areas with kiwi.

“Just as Maungataniwha can now be the source of kiwi to re-stock Pohokura, so we hope that ultimately Pohokura kiwi will make their way naturally to neighbouring areas such as the Whirinaki Conservation Forest, which is also being made safe for them.”

The Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust has carved out a name for itself as one of the most successful kiwi conservation initiatives in the country. Mr Hall said its 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 Ngāi Tahu, the Department of Conservation and Kiwis for kiwi, the only national charity dedicated to protecting kiwi.

“Kiwi conservation is not just about partnerships, it’s about community,” Mr Hall said. “It’s about friends, neighbours and our volunteers banding together to protect our national icon. Frequently in the dark and the cold and the pouring rain. They do it for love – literally.”

Michelle Impey, executive director of Kiwis for kiwi, said the work the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust had done over the past 15 years was “incredible”.

“They are one of the most prolific contributors of eggs to Operation Nest Egg, which is a massive achievement,” she said.

“They have also done a huge amount of work on predator control and habitat restoration, both of which are essential yet frequently thankless tasks in kiwi conservation. The combination of all of this work has resulted in an accelerated growth of the kiwi population in this project area and it’s fantastic to see that the Trust is now reaping the rewards.

“Kiwis for kiwi is very proud to work alongside Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust to boost the kiwi population in the eastern region, and we hope the coming season will be just as successful.”

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.

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