North Island brown kiwi, Apteryx mantelli

On Tuesday August 22nd the department of Conservation published a report that considered claims of mismanagement of kiwi at Hawke’s Bay’s Cape Sanctuary, back in the summer of 2016/17, leading to the deaths of 25 birds.

BayBuzz reporter Sahiban Hyde explains the findings below, which identified shortcomings on the part of both DOC itself in its monitoring and protection role and Cape Sanctuary in terms of its kiwi operations. It would appear DOC considers that kiwi management at the Sanctuary is presently satisfactory.

However, it remains troubling that, despite repeated requests by BayBuzz, no one at Cape Sanctuary has made any statement regarding this matter. 

The situation in 2016/17 is not the issue at hand. The Report addresses that.

But where reassurance is needed – directly from Cape Sanctuary – is that kiwis are presently cared for according to the highest standards, with detail on what that means in terms of Sanctuary operations today. Apart from the safety and welfare of the endangered birds, which is paramount, this community deserves that assurance. 

Local volunteers have devoted thousands of hours to caring for Cape Sanctuary and its inhabitants … certainly in the belief that their work at the Sanctuary was supporting an operation that was meeting the highest animal welfare standards and practices. And the rest of the community has cheered these efforts on over the years, duly recognising what was being accomplished. Transparency is required now to confirm the integrity of the Sanctuary’s operations.

Someone representing Cape Sanctuary needs to go ‘on the record’, acknowledge whatever past mistakes were made, and reassure the Hawke’s Bay community (and onlookers further afield) that today the treasured kiwi under its protection are receiving fully appropriate care, properly monitored.

Tom Belford, Editor

Now, here’s our reporting, by Sahiban Hyde. 

It has taken seven years of Department of Conservation (DOC) “defensiveness, incompetence, lack of accountability and transparency” to produce a fifth review about the death of 25 radio-tracked kiwi at the private Cape Sanctuary, Hawke’s Bay within a few weeks during the summer of 2016-17.

Kevin Hackwell, former Forest & Bird’s former Chief Conservation Advisor and former Forest and Bird representative on the national Kiwi Recovery Group told Bay Buzz despite it taking as long as it did, the fifth review still drew “factually incorrect conclusions” and “failed to get to the core of the problem”.

He said welfare of the species must always come before commercial need of the partners, a fact not mentioned in the review.

“When the Department of Conservation faces a conflict between its relationship with a private ‘partner’ and the need to protect the welfare of native wildlife – the welfare of the protected wildlife must take precedence,” Hackwell said.

Concerns were raised by numerous DOC staff about pressure, including bullying, if their statutory work upset the Sanctuary. 

Hackwell said the Sanctuary and the luxury Kidnappers Lodge were focussed on making money from the Lodge guests who paid top dollar for a “kiwi experience” where they could get to touch and hold kiwi chicks during unauthorised “health checks”.

“Staff at the time were under a lot of pressure to unauthorised health checks on kiwi. It was illegal. The checks were being done to meet the demand for tourists. At one point 29 kiwi chicks were released and new staff were supporting only eight of them for tourists to look at and hold,” he said.

Hackwell said in late 2016 – early 2017, new Sanctuary staff were under pressure to prioritise making kiwi chicks available for the tourist to have a kiwi experience.

By mid-January the Sanctuary was concentrating its monitoring on the eight kiwi chicks that were on site.

He said the small pool of kiwi chicks was being used to satisfy the daily demand for Lodge guest kiwi health checks.

“This meant that Sanctuary was not carrying out the normal monitoring of all the chicks, or the necessary predator control.

“As a result, the Sanctuary was blinded to that year’s high numbers of predators, particularly cats and stoats.

“While the first half of the summer was dry, from mid-January it turned into one of the wettest on record (February 2017 had rainfall 230% higher than the monthly average). 40% of the recorded kiwi deaths occurred during this wet period, which indicates that the cause of these and the earlier deaths was predation rather than drought.”

When the kiwi deaths were discovered by previous staff that had been brought back to help, the Sanctuary staff were told not to tell anyone, including DOC, about the deaths.

Four Sanctuary employees were so concerned that they independently contacted Hawke’s Bay DOC and told them of the deaths.

Hackwell said these whistle-blowers and their concerns were ignored by DOC’s Hawke’s Bay managers.

He said that’s what the first review was about- the whistleblower and DOC releasing all information, including details of the whistleblower, following an Official Information Act request. The review was about DOC failing to do the right thing by the informant. The informant was issued a settlement.

The second review centred around the Sanctuary’s wildlife permit. Hackwell said when the kiwis were found dead, it was found the Sanctuary did not have a current Wildlife Act permit. The permit had expired earlier. A new one was granted in 2018. Hackwell said there is a standard condition on the permit, and that is to abide by standards set out in kiwis best practice manual which included health check frequencies.

Hackwell said the Sanctuary carried on with higher frequencies of health checks.

He said David Shanks (the reviewer of the fifth review) was provided evidence that some Sanctuary guides were not certified to handle the chicks or carry out health checks, yet not only did this, but also let Lodge guests to handle the chicks.

DOC released the report commissioned by Director-General Penny Nelson, into the complaints made and how DOC managed Wildlife Act permits, on August 22.

“DOC didn’t respond in the way I would expect myself, so I asked for this review to identify what improvements are still needed,” Nelson said.

Independent reviewer David Shanks found a range of factors contributed to 25 kiwi deaths at Cape Sanctuary in the summer of 2016/17, including staff turnover, a very dry summer, and predation at the Sanctuary.

However, the review found DOC’s systems were inadequate, and recommended significant improvements to the issuing, documentation, monitoring, and reporting of permissions under the Wildlife Act, as well as improving complaints management.

“DOC should have done better and we accept all the review’s recommendations. It’s our responsibility to protect kiwi and we need to do everything we can to help them thrive.” Nelson said.

“We’re committed to making the changes within DOC that we need to. 

“Our programme of work will include reviewing existing wildlife authorities to make sure the right checks and balances are in place. We are also replacing our permissions database, improving training for DOC staff in monitoring roles, and strengthening our compliance approach.”

Nelson said some of the recommendations had already been implemented.

“We have already worked closely with Cape Sanctuary in the past seven years to improve the way kiwi are managed there.

“Sanctuaries are important for kiwi conservation. In the wild, in areas without predator control, fewer than 5% of kiwi chicks survive to adulthood. Sanctuaries that creche kiwi chicks raise kiwi until they’re big enough to withstand predators and can be released into the wild.”

Nelson said Cape Sanctuary, like many other sanctuaries, had helped increase the number of brown kiwi over the last 30 years.

“Kiwi do really well under close conservation management and as a result of good work, currently no kiwi is classified as critically endangered, but we must continue to be vigilant.

“By partnering with others, including private conservation entities, we better protect nature.”

Forest & Bird Chief Executive Nicola Toki said it was disappointing that it had taken so long, and a change in leadership at DOC to get to this point.

“The current Director General has done the right thing in commissioning this independent report.

“Forest & Bird continues to have some reservations about the recommendations of the report. We feel that the issues surrounding the 2019 variation were not fully and properly evaluated. Similarly, we remain concerned that the recommendation to review the approvals, when there does not appear to be a power to do this, is also questionable.

“Despite these reservations, the independent report shows all too clearly that change is needed. The recommendations need to be fully implemented as far as possible. Forest & Bird will be seeking assurances from DOC about how the recommendations will be acted on in a timely manner and any other steps that are necessary to ensure that events this this are not repeated.”

Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ on Air


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1 Comment

  1. Kiwi conservation is practised throughout NZ from Northland to Rakiura, Stewart Island. I know of nowhere else, than as has happened at Cape Sanctuary, (so privileged to have gained the right to raise kiwi chicks to safe-sized adulthood, for release back to the wild,) that their foster carers would allow handling of chicks by the general public, during daylight hours, under any circumstance, let alone for money. An adult kiwi, possibly, but never a chick.
    As in other places, why were night-time tours not offered to Lodge guests, to hopefully spot, hear and learn about kiwi, in their nocturnal habits.
    This is the highlight of a visit to many other protected conservation sanctuaries.
    However the practice evolved, whoever is at fault in the loss of so many chicks over 2016-17 in the the name of Conservation of all endemic species, I believe it is inexcusable.

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