Introduction

Manukura, the first white kiwi chick hatched in captivity, is a girl.

Manukura, the first white kiwi chick hatched in captivity, is a girl. 

Seen as a sign of new beginnings by local Maori, the rare chick may be just that – because new, out-of-season kiwi eggs have been found in the native forest at her Pukaha Mount Bruce home. 

DNA tests conducted by Massey University scientists revealed Manukura’s gender, pronouncing her a girl. The result was contrary to the expectations of rangers caring for her at the National Wildlife Centre.  

Since she hatched on 1 May, the star thirteenth chick of Pukaha Mount Bruce’s record kiwi breeding season has commonly been referred to as ‘he’. 

“I had a feeling all along that Manukura was a male and we’d come to think of her as a boy,” Department of Conservation captive breeding ranger Darren Page said. “It was yet another surprise from this extraordinary bird.”

Darren Page said the only way to determine the sex of a juvenile kiwi is to remove a feather and extract DNA from the tip of the feather where it enters the skin. 

Manakura the white kiwi is a female. Photo: Mike Heydon.
Manakura the white kiwi is a female

Named by local iwi Rangitane o Wairarapa, Manukura means ‘of chiefly status’.  Rangitane spokesperson Jason Kerehi said there had been many chiefly women in Maori history and the name Manukura could be given to a male or a female.  

Manukura remains in captivity in a fenced outdoor enclosure which she shares with another female chick named Potiki, meaning ‘youngest’ because she was the fourteenth chick hatched last season.

Manukura will remain in the outdoor enclosure until at least October.  Visitors to the centre can see the special kiwi each Sunday at 2pm after she has been weighed by rangers.  No decision has yet been made on her future.

While the young kiwi eat, sleep and grow in captivity, adult males are doing their job of sitting on four new kiwi eggs discovered by rangers in late June in the 940-hectare native forest. 

“This is either exceptionally late in the kiwi breeding season which is from September to May or exceptionally early,” said Pukaha Mount Bruce field centre supervisor Kathy Houkamau.  “While we know the eggs are there, we don’t yet know if they’re fertile because we wait until they are 65 days old before bringing them in.”

The kiwi eggs were discovered through ‘egg timer’ transmitters fitted to male kiwis that tell rangers how many days a male has been sitting on an egg.   “It's much less intrusive than the old way of tracking males and testing eggs to determine their age and there is also less risk of egg abandonment.”

Kiwi eggs are collected at night when the male is off the egg and out feeding.  They are brought into the kiwi nursery where they are incubated and hatched at around 80-90 days. The chicks are raised in captivity until they weigh 1.2 kg when they are released into the wild.

Visitor numbers at the centre have soared since Manukura captured world-wide attention in May. “Mid-winter is usually our quietest time of year but our June and July numbers are almost double what they were at the same time last year,” Kathy Houkamau said. “Manukura has certainly raised awareness of our work here to restore the forest and reintroduce native species.  We need all the support we can get to maintain our intensive pest control programme which is funded mostly by community efforts.” ENDS

Kiwi facts

  • Young kiwi in captivity feed themselves on worms and insects and receive a top-up of ox heart, vegetables, bananas, cat biscuits and a special kiwi supplement.   The special captive diet keeps the kiwi’s nutrient intake balanced and close to what they would eat in the wild.
  • Female kiwi weigh up to 3kg and males up to 2kg.  Females are bigger to accommodate their eggs which are huge in proportion to their body size.  A kiwi egg takes up about 20 percent of the female's body size compared to 5 percent for a human baby.
  • Manukura currently weighs 775g and was 280g at hatch.
  • Potiki currently weighs 856g and was 340g at hatch.
  • The hatch weight of a kiwi is usually 320g - 350g.
  • It takes up to six months for a juvenile kiwi to reach the release weight of 1200g.
  • Female kiwi are generally more stroppy than males and harder to handle because of this and their comparative size.
  • Kiwi reach breeding age at 2 - 3 years.
  • Kiwi have a lifespan of approximately 30 years.

About Pukaha Mount Bruce – National Wildlife Centre

  • Pukaha Mount Bruce is located between Eketahuna and Masterton, at the edges of the Tararua and Masterton districts.
  • Visitors are able to get close to critically endangered species and learn about NZ’s unique ecological history.  A range of experiences includes eel and kaka feeds, nocturnal kiwi house, viewing kiwi chick rearing in season, tuatara, forest walks, ranger talks and viewing of captive and wild native birds.
  • The restoration of the native 940-hectare Pukaha forest began in 2001 with the aim of returning the dawn chorus to the area through the reintroduction into the wild of endangered native birds. 
  • The success of the pest control effort enabled the reintroduction of kokako and kiwi into the unfenced reserve in 2003. Prior to then kokako and kiwi had been absent from the area for 60 and 100 years respectively. Since the 2003 releases, kiwi, kokako and kaka have successfully bred in the wild.    
  • The Pukaha Mount Bruce Board is the governance body providing overall strategic direction.  It includes representatives from the community, Rangitane and DOC.
  • The Department of Conservation undertakes day-to-day management and forest restoration programme of Pukaha Mount Bruce on behalf of the Board.
  • The 940-hectare Pukaha sanctuary is protected by more than a 1,000 traps which are regularly monitored.  800 of these are in the regional council buffer zones on farmland surrounding the reserve and 200 are in the reserve, mostly at the perimeters where predators generally try to gain access.
  • The Pukaha Mount Bruce Board has the task of raising more than $150,000 per year to keep pests out of the forest.  These funds are largely raised through community fundraising, grants and donations.
  • Donations to the Safe Forest Fund can be made through the Pukaha website www.pukaha.org.nz or posted to Pukaha Mount Bruce Board, P O Box 680, Masterton 5840, New Zealand.

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