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A new dog has joined DOC's rowi kiwi team to help save this critically endangered species.

Date:  05 March 2010

A new dog has joined DOC's rowi kiwi team to help save this critically endangered species.

Starting young - from about eight weeks of age - Rein is a very enthusiastic Hungarian Vizsla, brought on board by DOC in Franz Josef to find rowi without the use of transmitters.

Rowi kiwi dog, Rein. Photo: Lizzy Sutcliffe.
Rowi kiwi dog, Rein

“Vizslas are actually bred as all-round hunting dogs so are genetically predisposed to hunt for birds,” says Rein’s trainer and handler, Rowi Ranger, Iain Graham.

“Ironically these animals (as with all dogs) can be prolific killers of kiwi, however, with the right training and in the correct hands, they can also become very valuable conservation tools.”

The path to becoming a detection dog for the Department of Conservation requires considerable training, so Rein and Iain will be kept very busy over the next couple of years.

Rowi, along with all other species of kiwi, have a very limited genetic diversity. Because the population of rowi is so small (limited to one population of 350 birds in Okarito Kiwi Zone north-west of Franz Josef) and the monitored breeding population is only half that again, the chicks being rescued using BNZ Operation Nest Egg are coming from the same sets of genes, year after year.

Rein with her handler, Iain Graham. Photo: Lizzy Sutcliffe.
Rein with her handler, Iain Graham

A trained kiwi dog will be a huge asset to the team in allowing them to find previously unmonitored kiwi in Okarito. This will assist in increasing the current rowi gene pool and also help to locate (and so protect) the offspring of new birds using BNZ Operation Nest Egg.

Despite all this training, Rein will never be allowed in Okarito Kiwi Zone without a muzzle and a handler.

“There is no such thing as a ‘kiwi-proof’ dog. No matter how well-trained a dog is, it will always pose a threat to kiwi,” warns Iain.

“Having spent so much time in kiwi conservation I’m well aware of the devastation that a roaming dog can cause. I would urge people to take extreme care to prevent their pet from killing our icon. The best way to do this is to ensure you never take your dog in an area where there are kiwi.”

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