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Rare kiwi population doubles

Date:  25 January 2013

A successful project to save New Zealand's rarest kiwi species—the rowi—from extinction, has enabled the Department of Conservation (DOC) to return another 9 young birds to Ōkārito forest today. The Scenic Group hosted a welcome-home ceremony for the rowi at Te Waonui Retreat at midday, attended by a range of people from the Franz Josef community as well as some very lucky visitors.

One of New Zealand's species recovery success stories, the rowi has been brought back from a population low of fewer than 200 birds in 1998 to nearly 400 birds today.

Children fascinated by Rowi.
Children fascinated by Rowi

"The doubling of the population has been thanks to a blend of old-fashioned hard work and new
techniques and technology—including a ground-breaking aerial tracking system called Sky Ranger." says Cornelia Vervoorn, community relations ranger with DOC.

"If these birds had been left in the wild, there is a 95% chance that they would have been killed by stoats soon after hatching."

"However, as part of BNZ Operation Nest Egg, DOC rangers rescued the eggs before they hatched and took them to the West Coast Wildlife Centre in Franz Josef. They were incubated and hatched in the centre's husbandry unit before being taken to predator-free Motuara Island in the Marlborough Sounds.

"Now that the chicks have grown up and are strong enough to repel stoat attacks, they are completing their journey and being released back into the Ōkārito Kiwi Sanctuary."

 Lindsay Maron of BNZ showing a rowi to a young fan.
Lindsay Maron of BNZ showing a rowi to a young fan

Cornelia is grateful that the communities surrounding the kiwi sanctuary—Franz Josef, Ōkārito and Whataroa—are extremely supportive of the rowi recovery project, with local businesses providing funding for the recovery work and staff hours for conservation projects in the area. The Scenic Group, who own six hotels on the West Coast, have developed the Adopt-a-Rowi initiative (where guests can “adopt” a toy kiwi placed in their rooms, and the profits go towards saving the rowi).

Scenic Hotels Franz Josef General Manager Maree Welgus is glad that the hotel chain is able to get involved with the project. “Our employees are really enthusiastic in their support of rowi. They feel a strong sense of a responsibility to have the world's rarest kiwi living almost on their doorstep," she says.

“It’s incredibly important to DOC that the Franz Josef business community is supporting the ecosystems that they depend on for their livelihoods,” says Wayne Costello, DOC’s Franz Josef Area Manager. “Businesses like the Scenic Group are leaping at the chance to play an important role in protecting New Zealand’s biodiversity for all of us in the future.”

"There's still a long way to go," says Michelle Impey of Kiwis for Kiwi.

"Eventually we would like to see rowi able to sustain and grow their population without any human intervention, but until we can keep rats and stoats at bay we'll keep working with DOC and the local community to protect rowi."

Rowi unfazed by the attention.
Rowi unfazed by the attention

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