VIDEO: Go into a kiwi's burrow
Fri, 20 Jul 2012 10:49a.m.
By Hannah Sarney
As we ducked under flax fronds - with our hands and knees sinking into the dirt and leaves - we caught a very rare glimpse of the tiny black eyes and long bills unique to New Zealand's national symbol.
The cosy pair had just been located by specially trained dogs and scientists as they conducted the five-yearly kiwi survey on Tiritiri Matangi Island.
--- Watch a video of the kiwi survey on Tiritiri Matangi Island here ---
Earlier that morning, amid the hustle and bustle of downtown Auckland, we checked our packs for uninvited pests, gathered our cameras, and boarded a ferry to the beautiful predator-free sanctuary. It is located 30km north-east of central Auckland and it feels like another world.
While most visitors to the island can expect to see an incredible range of New Zealand native birds - including kokako, stichbird, takahe and saddleback - the nocturnal and flightless kiwi is usually out of view.
However, we were on a special trip to the island to observe the kiwi firsthand, and the work being done to protect the species.
Tiritiri Matangi Island is home to the smallest and rarest of the five species of kiwi - the little spotted kiwi. The bird is believed to be extinct on mainland New Zealand and only survives on six offshore islands.
It was introduced to Tiritiri Matangi in 1993. Since then the population has gone on to thrive without the threat of mammalian predators in the rich environment of native bush that the island offers.
As we walked up Coronary Hill, following the bleeps of the transmitters, we listened to a chorus of tui while curious fantails swooped around, above, and in-between our legs.
Despite the dense bush, the specially trained kiwi dogs, Cara and Jade, didn't take long to find a pair of little spotted kiwi huddled together in their flax burrow.
--- View photos of the kiwi and the island here ---
Dr Hugh Robertson, one of the kiwi scientists, brought the bleary-eyed birds out into the sunshine to have their transmitters removed after a few days of tracking.
The kiwi survey runs over 10 days and aims to measure the size and health of the kiwi population on the island and map the particular areas they inhabit.
Due to the nocturnal nature of the kiwi, the shifts during the hours of daylight are slightly easier for the scientists working on the survey. A snoozing kiwi is much easier to target than one that is wide-awake and moving.
"An adult kiwi can run just as fast as me," said Dr Robertson.
However, in other areas around the country the kiwi is very difficult to find - no matter what time of day.
Just over 200 years ago there were millions of kiwi roaming the bush of New Zealand. That number decreased drastically due to the introduction of predators, humans, and the subsequent loss of habitat.
Kiwi populations fragment as they decline, their sex ratios skew and so the effective breeding population declines even further. It can become a downward spiral.
The Kiwi Recovery Programme began in 1991 in an effort to prevent the extinction of kiwi on mainland New Zealand.
"Prior to the DOC initiatives, we didn't know any details about kiwi - their numbers, where they live, how they live, how long they live. With these projects we're building up all the information and working on protecting them," said BNZ Save the Kiwi Trust's Paul O'Shea.
The BNZ Save the Kiwi Trust was launched in 2002 - a partnership between DOC, BNZ, and Forest and Bird - to build on the ground work done by the Kiwi Recovery Programme.
Now they are working together, using Operation Nest Egg, and growing wealth of knowledge to push kiwi out of their endangered status and into numbers that will make all conservationist proud.
I'm sure the kiwi we saw on Tiritiri Matangi Island were relieved to be returned to the darkness of their burrow. However, their time in the spotlight needs to continue to raise awareness of their plight.
I went home and became a supporter of Tiritiri Matangi Island. The sanctuary proves that every bit of help goes a very long way.
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