Contributed by Dave Howarth and Rebecca Ebbers.
Kiwi chicks get help to survive.
Kapowai Kiwi Group is a local organisation that works with Operation Nest Egg (ONE) to help keep the kiwi population growing. The Informer spoke with Dave Howarth, who is principally involved with monitoring of male kiwi.
“I had previously been involved with the Kopowai Kiwi group when one of their trappers could no longer continue, I replaced her. I then subsequently began working with Operation Nest Egg. Another young couple now assist with trapping and that allows me to focus mainly on the male kiwi monitoring.”
There are numerous people involved with ONE; including Paula, Sarah and Dianne with her dog, Neo, who is trained to locate kiwi. There are a number of male kiwis that carry transmitters in the Kopowai area which we have been monitoring for three years now. I have a receiver and the antennae picks up the signal from the kiwi transmitters so I can locate the male kiwi. Kiwi move around and the male uses a different burrow for each clutch of eggs. Normally there are two eggs laid in a clutch. Females do not have transmitters put on them. They lay the eggs and their work is done. It’s the male kiwi’s role to incubate and the male also rotates the egg throughout a 24-hour period.
“I monitor the kiwi twice a month. The transmitter sends a signal when the male bird is sitting on on eggs in incubation mode. We also get a signal in non-incubation mode and a signal comes if that kiwi dies.
We can work out from the transmitted information at what stage of incubation the egg is. The incubation period is 80 days. At around day 65, we harvest the eggs. We transport those eggs Normally there are two eggs. We must transport those eggs either to Rainbow Springs in Rotorua or the Burrow in Wairaki, or up to the Auckland Zoo (kiwi crèches).”
These centres incubate the eggs until hatching and then the birds are transported to a predator-free island in the Hauraki Gulf, set up as a sanctuary for the Coromandel Brown Kiwi. Once the island reaches saturation point, the young kiwi will be returned to a specific area of the Peninsula. The Coromandel Brown Kiwi will only come back to the Coromandel but eggs from the Kopowai area may be returned to a different part of the Peninsula. There are four genetic varieties of kiwis in the North Island.
To help with keeping track of the New Zealand kiwi population, an annual national census occurs where volunteers go out at night, in the cold, during the period April - June to record female/male kiwi calls. The chances of a kiwi chick surviving in the wild is 10%. In other parts of the country, it could be lower, and the kiwi numbers are still declining. The Coromandel Peninsula is the only place in NZ where the kiwi population is increasing. This success can be attributed to a team effort and the attitude of people on the Coromandel to the environment and conservation.
“Generally, people are very mindful of how delicate our environment and landscape is and the need to look after it.”
The Kopowai Kiwi group trapping area covers 3,300 hectares. This predator control programme started in 2002, for stoats, weasels, hedgehogs, feral cats, and possums. The kill numbers are reported on each month. It is important for the public to be aware that drags also attack kiwi and should be Kiwi aversion trained if going into the bush.
Dave, like all the people involved in this project, loves his work. “There is nothing better than sitting in the bush with a kiwi curled up in your lap when you are changing a transmitter, which we do every 12 months. The kiwi is a delicate creature, our national icon, who needs our help to survive.”
I am an architectural designer so that means being at a desk, but this work takes me into the best scenes in the world and to a delicate creature who needs the help of humans to continue.”
Kopowai Kiwi group is very appreciative of the generosity of their funders, Waikato Regional Council (Environmental Initiative Fund and Small-Scale Community Initiative Fund), Save the Kiwi and Pub Charity.
Kapowai Kiwi Group has a webpage (www.kopowaikiwigroup.co.nz) where members of the public can financially contribute to support the group’s conservation work.
Caption: Dave Howarth checking the transmitter on one of the male kiwi as part of the Kapowai Kiwi Group project.