Introduction

Rowi, the world's rarest kiwi species, is returning to the North Island after an absence of hundreds of years.

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Date:  18 June 2012

Rowi, the world's rarest kiwi species, is returning to the North Island after an absence of hundreds of years.

Twenty juvenile rowi will be going to Mana Island, near Wellington, to establish a new colony in the hope of improving the breeding prospects for the species. Normally they would be going home to Ōkārito, in South Westland, from their crèche on Motuara Island in Queen Charlotte Sound.

"By sending a juvenile population north to predator-free Mana Island, we’re making it possible for the rowi to breed with much less human interference," says Iain Graham, BNZ Operation Nest Egg™ Ranger.

"We expect that the absence of predator pressure, better breeding conditions and less competition for territories will ensure that the Mana Island rowi produce a high number of chicks that can eventually become part of the home population in Ōkārito."

Rowi. Photo: Ian Gill. DOC USE ONLY.
Rowi, the world's rarest kiwi species

The Department of Conservation removed the 20 rowi eggs from the Ōkārito forest to protect them from predators - stoats and other introduced pests - as part of BNZ Operation Nest Egg™. After they were hatched at the West Coast Wildlife Centre in Franz Josef, the chicks were raised to maturity on predator-free Motuara Island in the Marlborough Sounds. The juveniles are now ready for their long term OE. The rowi will be transferred by New Zealand Air Force helicopter from Ngāti Toa Domain across to Mana Island.

Thanks to conservation efforts led by DOC and the BNZ Save the Kiwi Trust, rowi numbers have slowly been increasing from a low of fewer than 200 birds in 2007.

Pest control in Ōkārito forest is ongoing but reinvasion rates of stoats and rats mean that supplementing natural breeding using the BNZ Operation Nest Egg™ programme has guaranteed a better level of success in producing young adult rowi.

BNZ Save the Kiwi Trust executive director, Michelle Impey says saving the critically endangered rowi has been a priority. "At one point it looked like the rowi decline was a tragedy in the making. It's been a fantastic relief to see BNZ Operation Nest Egg in action; this tool has been vital in bringing the population quickly back to a point where the species, with nearly 400 birds, has a future. Still we want to get the population even higher to secure a robust population. The Mana project can help achieve this."

"The next generation of young Mana-born rowi can help to reclaim the natural range of their ancestors further north from Ōkārito Forest," says Wayne Costello, DOC Area Manager for Franz Josef.

"Natural breeding is far preferable to intensive management, and the outcome from the Mana colony may set a trend for other species of kiwi that are constantly under threat in their mainland sanctuaries."

The Ngai Tahu hapū on the West Coast, Kati Māhaki ki Makaawhio, are kaitiaki – guardians for the rowi on the Coast. When the young kiwi go north to Mana Island, Ngāti Toa Rangatira will take over the kaitiaki role for the small isolated colony.

"Ngāti Toa are honoured to welcome the rowi back to our region. We have long been involved with the care of threatened native bird species on nearby Kāpiti and Mana islands. It is our hope that the rowi will successfully flourish here as other critcally endangered birds have such as the takahē," says Taku Parai, chairperson of Te Rūnanga o Toa Rangatira Inc.

Background

Rowi Population recovery as a result of Bank of New Zealand Operation Nest Egg™ and pest control

  • 1996 survey put population at estimated 180 birds.
  • Rowi from the Operation Nest Egg™ project have been released into Okarito Forest:
    • 2009 – 33 juvenile rowi to South Okarito Forest
    • 2010 – 35 juvenile rowi released (20 into North Okarito and 15 into South Okarito Forest)
    • 2011 –  16 juvenile rowi released into North Okarito Forest
  • We have nearly 400 now, so the population is a little more secure, but we are aiming to get the population up to at least 600 to be more resilient

BNZ Save the Kiwi Trust

  • BNZ Save the Kiwi Trust was established in November 2002 by Bank of New Zealand, the Department of Conservation and Forest & Bird, 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.
  • Nearly $6 million in funding grants has been provided in total since 2003. 
  • In 2010 alone, $880,000 was allocated to community and DOC kiwi projects. This money came from Bank of New Zealand, its staff, customers and supporters of BNZ Save the Kiwi Trust.

The BNZ Operation Nest Egg™

  • 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 weigh 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. 

The wider picture – kiwi conservation nationally

  • Rowi are a success story for kiwi conservation and provide a picture of hope for what we can achieve.
  • Kiwi numbers nationwide have plummeted – from millions 200 years ago – to about 70,000 total today. Predators and loss of habitat means they have simply disappeared from many places.  The main predators for kiwi are stoats (chicks) and dogs (adults). There are five species of kiwi and each species is endangered. 
  • The good news is there is a tremendous movement underway to ‘Save the Kiwi’. Each species now has at least one population being managed, and these are growing. The most endangered kiwi – rowi and Haast tokoeka – are increasing in number. The little spotted kiwi population is also on the rise. 
  • There are more than 70 community-based groups working to protect kiwi on more than 50,000 hectares of private and public land. In addition, five kiwi sanctuaries help kiwi survive and thrive on mainland New Zealand – in Northland, Coromandel, Tongariro, Ōkārito and Haast. 

Contact

Herb Christophers
Email: hchristophers@doc.govt.nz
Phone: +64 4 471 3188
Mobile: +64 27 227 2997

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