Saving New Zealand’s Kiwi

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^Top Image: A little spotted kiwi feeds in the forests of New Zealand’s North Island. Credit: © John Carnemolla, Shutterstoc

How do you eliminate pests or an invasive species (introduced species that spreads quickly and harms native wildlife)? These kinds of organisms can wreak havoc on native ecosystems—so much so, that they can cause native species to become endangered or even extinct in their own homeland. This is exactly what’s happening in New Zealand. The nation’s national bird, the kiwi, is diminishing in numbers, a consequence of invasive species. To save the kiwi, the island nation is striving to eliminate these threats by the year 2050. October was Save Kiwi Month in New Zealand, a time to organize conservation efforts and donate to charities.

The kiwi is a chicken-sized bird that cannot fly. It has a stocky body covered with shaggy, dull brown feathers. The neck and legs of the kiwi are short, and its bill is long and flexible. A kiwi has no tail. Its tiny wings consist of only several stiff feathers. Kiwis are the only birds that have nostrils at the tips of their bills. They use them to smell food in the thick, wet forests where they live. At night, kiwis feed on earthworms, insects, and berries. During the day, kiwis hide. The five species (kinds) of Kiwis are found only in New Zealand.

A female kiwi lays one or two large white eggs in a hole in the earth of a riverbank. The male sits on the eggs for around 75 days until they hatch. In areas where predators are controlled, 50 percent to 60 percent of the chicks survive. But in areas that are not under careful management, 95 percent of kiwis die before reaching breeding age. New Zealand did not have any mammal predators before people introduced them to the islands. Stoats (also called ermines) were introduced to New Zealand in the 1880’s to control rabbits. But stoats have since become one of the biggest threats to the islands’ native birds. The predators are known for stealing eggs from nests. Possums, rats, mice, and dogs also wreak havoc on kiwis and other native birds.

The New Zealand government is stepping in to save the kiwi, aiding the recovery efforts of such conservation charities as Kiwis for Kiwi (New Zealanders are often referred to as kiwis). Millions of kiwi birds once roamed New Zealand’s forests, but fewer than 70,000 now remain. Less than 5 percent of kiwis reach adulthood because of habitat loss and introduced predators. With the “Kiwi Recovery Plan 2017-2027,” New Zealand hopes to reverse the decline and gradually increase kiwi numbers. A big part of the plan is the eventual removal of the nation’s invasive species.

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