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The release of three pairs of the world’s rarest kiwi – the rowi – will make history on June 29 when they are transferred to Marlborough Sounds’ Blumine Island in an effort to encourage breeding.

Date:  29 June 2010

The release of three pairs of the world’s rarest kiwi – the rowi – will make history on June 29 when they are transferred to Marlborough Sounds’ Blumine Island in an effort to encourage breeding.

This is the first time kiwi pairs have been taken out of their natural environment in order to stimulate fertility and conservation groups are hoping that a change of scenery might just be the missing ingredient.

Department of Conservation (DOC) Rowi Team Leader, Duncan Kay says the future of this kiwi species could rest on the fertility of these birds.

Rowi Team Leader, Duncan Kay with a rowi. Photo: Rod Morris.
Rowi Team Leader, Duncan Kay with a rowi

“We’re hoping that the warmer climate and food-rich soils of Blumine Island will contribute to breeding success for these birds. Unlike their home on the mainland, Blumine is predator-free. Birds will not only be safe from the jaws of stoats, cats and dogs but will also benefit from not having to compete with pest species – such as rats, possums and hedgehogs – for food. ”

These pairs, some of whom have been with their partners for many years, have so far been unsuccessful when it comes to reproducing.

”We estimate approximately one third of the rowi population is currently unproductive,” says Duncan.

It’s pretty puzzling. Transferring these three pairs is a groundbreaking project; it could give us some much-needed answers.”

Rowi - which are critically endangered with a population of just 350 – are currently only found in Ōkārito Kiwi Zone on the South Island’s West Coast. They were once abundant and widespread over much of the West Coast and south East Coast of North Island.

Funding for the Blumine Island rowi transfer project has come from the BNZ Save the Kiwi Trust, without which, says Duncan, the project would not have taken on its current scope.

Michelle Impey, executive director for BNZ Save the Kiwi Trust says it is tremendous to see donations from BNZ customers and the general public used in such a direct way, for such an urgent project.

“Rowi need help now. To have assisted such a groundbreaking project is what our work is all about.”

Duncan adds that the move from Ōkārito to the Marlborough Sounds may shake things up a little for the old pairs.

“Although rowi often mate for life, as with us humans, there is also the possibility of affairs and divorces!

“Many of these new pairings may well enable birds to produce fertile eggs for the first time.”

The rowi population is currently being assisted with conservation tool, BNZ Operation Nest Egg. This is where wild kiwi eggs are collected then incubated, hatched and reared in captivity. When about four weeks old, chicks are sent to a safe crèche – either a predator-free island or mainland sanctuary – until they reach around one kilogram. Only then are they returned to their wild home. BNZ Operation Nest Egg increases by at least seven times the chance of a kiwi making it to adulthood.

The transfer to Blumine Island is part of the National Kiwi Recovery Plan to increase the population of rowi to 600 by 2018.

Blumine Island is a scenic reserve that is open to visitors all year round. At just over 400 hectares, it is the largest Marlborough Sounds island reserve, situated in outer Queen Charlotte Sound, about an hour’s boat ride from Picton.

Part of the island was extensively cleared for agriculture in the past but now is clothed in regenerating native forest. A 2005 DOC rodent eradication operation and stoat trapping cleared the island of introduced predators paving the way for the island’s wildlife to be restored. Students are involved in monitoring the island’s ecological restoration through educational programmes supported by Untouched World Charitable Trust and the Canterbury University College of Education.

Untouched World Charitable Trust’s programmes has seen more than 320 senior secondary school students from Marlborough and Canterbury supported by approximately 50 teachers participate in supporting the conservation efforts in 20 week-long visits to Blumine Island (100 days of work), since 2002.

Peri Drysdale, Chair of the Untouched World Charitable Trust says “The release of Kiwi on Blumine island is a fantastic result for all the secondary school students and teachers who have worked hard to achieve this outcome. The release also demonstrates the effectiveness of strong working partnerships across sectors.”

2010 is designated the International Year of Biodiversity by the United Nations. A time to take stock on the effect of humanity on the diversity of life on earth.

Minister of Conservation, Hon. Kate Wilkinson officially released the rowi pairs on Blumine Island on Tuesday 29 June.

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Additional information


  • There is only one population of rowi left within 11,000 hectares of forest in Ōkārito, north-west of Franz Josef. Rowi were once abundant and widespread over much of the West Coast and south East Coast of North Island.
  • Found to be an entirely new species of kiwi in 1994 and given the name rowi, they are one of five species of kiwi.
  • In 2000, South Ōkārito Forest was designated one of New Zealand’s five special kiwi sanctuaries – Ōkārito Kiwi Zone – and funding for the management of recovery of rowi was provided through the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy.
  • Stoats are the major threat to rowi survival. Predation by stoats is the primary reason for the low survival of rowi chicks. Rowi chicks are particularly vulnerable until they reach 1 kg in weight. Stoats have been known to predate 95% of all young rowi chicks that hatch in Ōkārito forest.

BNZ Save the Kiwi Trust was established in November 2002 by Bank of New Zealand, Forest & Bird and the Department of Conservation, building on a sponsorship relationship that started in 1991. BNZ Save the Kiwi Trust is responsible for public awareness and education, fundraising, sponsorship and grant allocations for kiwi recovery nationally. In 2009 alone, nearly $1 million was allocated to community and DOC kiwi projects, including $75,000 for the Rowi Project. Nearly $5 million has been granted for kiwi work in total. This money came from BNZ, its staff, customers and supporters of BNZ Save the Kiwi Trust.

BNZ Operation Nest Egg™ is a powerful tool to reverse the decline of key kiwi populations. Eggs and chicks are harvested from nests to save them from stoats and cats. The young kiwi are returned to the wild when they weight about 1kg, big enough to fight off these predators. More than 1000 kiwi chicks have been returned to the wild since the programme began in 1994, with captive facilities and hundreds of field workers from DOC and community groups throughout the country contributing to its success. The BNZ Operation Nest Egg™ egg harvesting chick rearing return to the wild technique was developed for kiwi through research funded solely by Bank of New Zealand and is now also used in other species recovery programmes.

Untouched World Charitable Trust

Provides young adults with unique learning experiences, developing life-skills to maximise their individual potential throughout their lives and be inspired to lead the way in achieving a sustainable future.

The release of kiwi on Blumine Island is in part the result of a partnership between The Untouched World Charitable Trust, DOC Picton and West Coast conservancies, and the BNZ Save the Kiwi Trust. The partnership has achieved greater understanding of biodiversity and the funds to implement a combined education and conservation programme with a focus on youth leadership for the future.

The Trust has been operating field programmes across New Zealand since 2002, and has some 400 graduate students, whose consequent career paths range from DOC rangers to lawyers to teachers. see

Willowbank Wildlife Reserve

As part of the BNZ Operation Nest Egg™ process, eggs are incubated and hatched using facilities at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in Christchurch.

People living in the South Island are guaranteed to see kiwi at Willowbank. There are even possibilities of seeing them in a natural, nocturnal setting under the stars on a night time tour or, for a lucky few, visiting the chick-raising facilities and seeing a rowi chick get a helping hand - one of the only ways people can see the world’s rarest kiwi face-to-face.

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