A Far North dog owner describes feeling ‘sickened’ when he realised the possum he had set his dog on to kill, was in fact a Northland brown kiwi.

A Far North dog owner describes feeling ‘sickened’ when he realised the possum he had set his dog on to kill, was in fact a Northland brown kiwi. 

The Taipa farmer was in his garden on Monday when his dog started scratching in some bushes. Murray (he prefers to just give his first name) called his dog back, and then reconsidered.

“I’d been having problems with possums, so decided to let the dog go for it,” he says. 

Moments later the dog reappeared with a bleeding kiwi in its mouth. Murray was horrified.

“I immediately phoned my wife and asked her to call the vet,” he says.

Murray’s wife phoned him back with the number for Total Kiwi Services vet, Lesley Baigent.

Lesley says that initially the kiwi seemed really bright and feisty and so, hopeful of a good outcome, she decided to send it to Massey University for treatment. 

The kiwi, suffering from a chest wound and deep bruising, was flown down to Massey University on Tuesday morning, where it received treatment and then surgery. Unfortunately, its injuries proved too severe and the kiwi died on Friday.

“Although the visible damage to the bird was minor, the hip was dislocated. Judging by the injuries, the dog must have been quite gentle, but kiwi are so fragile it doesn’t take much. Ultimately the stress and internal injuries were obviously too great,” explains Lesley.

The dog involved is a beardie/huntaway cross called Griss. He’s a working farm dog with no track record of attacking birds. “He’s used to being around the chickens and never touches them,” says Murray.

Murray is adamant that the kiwi mauling was not the dog's fault. “He was only doing what I told him to do. Any well-trained dog is under the control of its owner. I have to take responsibility for this,” he says.

Asked if there was anything he would change to avoid another incident, Murray says he would check to see exactly what animal his dog was interested in. He believes the days of assuming it’s a possum are gone. “You need to be sure what the dog is after before letting it go,” he says. 

Open to finding out more about kiwi, Murray is planning to attend a kiwi/bird aversion training workshop this weekend.

Although he firmly believes that a dog’s owner is ultimately responsible for its actions. 

“We need to be trained about kiwi, where they are, where they live. They are on farmland too, not just in the bush,” he says. 

Total Kiwi Services, with support from the Department of Conservation and BNZ Save the Kiwi Trust, run free kiwi/bird aversion training workshops in the Far North. The workshops focus on discouraging dogs from approaching kiwi. Lesley says the workshops have proved popular with pig hunters, farmers and pet owners.

“I don’t think anyone wants their dogs to kill kiwi. As this farmer experienced, it’s a gut-wrenching moment when you find your dog has killed one of these beautiful birds. Aversion training isn’t 100% fool-proof but it does help,” says Lesley.

Dogs are the number one killer of adult kiwi in Northland. Although there is still a good population of kiwi, they are in decline. Kiwi advocates, including BNZ Save the Kiwi Trust (the major sponsor of kiwi conservation in New Zealand), believe that through better control and awareness of the relationship between dogs and kiwi, this can be reversed.

“Imagine being on your deck on a summer evening, and hearing kiwi calling, or spotting them wandering across the lawn. Kiwi can live practically anywhere so it’s not an impossible dream,” says Lesley.

Two kiwi/bird aversion training workshops are planned for the next fortnight; one at the Fairburn Hall this Saturday, 13 August 2011, at 9 am. Then next Saturday (20 August 2011) at Taumarumaru Reserve in Coopers Beach. For more information, or to find out about Far North workshops planned in the future, contact Lesley Baigent +64 9 408 7800 or the Department of Conservation +64 9 408 6014.

Kiwi/bird aversion training

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