Conservationists believe they are close to defining the ideal formula for re-introducing kiwi to wilderness areas where existing populations have been greatly reduced or eliminated by predators.

Last month (February) Hawke’s Bay-based Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust (FLRT) succeeded in returning target kiwi numbers to a second large tract of land under its management at Pohokura on state highway 5 between Napier and Taupo.  (It already has kiwi at Maungataniwha Native Forest in central Hawke’s Bay).

The feat has been described by the national charity Save the Kiwi as “hugely significant” in the ongoing battle to save the Eastern Brown kiwi, the least managed and fastest declining of the North Island’s four regional kiwi populations.  

 “Re-introducing kiwi to any given rohe is not as simple as releasing juvenile kiwi into a forest and letting them get on with it,” says Save the Kiwi chief executive Michelle Impey. 

“It’s a carefully timed and implemented process of ongoing land preparation and ‘site readiness’, egg retrieval and incubation, genetic considerations, partnerships and stewardship, population density management, reintroductions and ongoing husbandry.

“The Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust’s ability to bring back kiwi populations at scale on not just one but two separate properties is proof-positive that when all these elements come together well, kiwi populations can thrive. 

Since its formation just 16 years ago, the Trust has become one of the most prolific contributors to Operation Nest Egg, the nationwide kiwi recovery initiative that removes kiwi eggs from their burrows, incubates them and cares for the chicks in captivity until they’re big enough to fend for themselves in the wild. Since 2017, its property in the Maungataniwha Native Forest in central Hawke’s Bay has grown a kiwi population that is now large enough to grow meaningfully and increase naturally with predator control in place. 

A young kiwi chick was found recently at Maungataniwha, indicating that the birds there are benefiting from predator control work and breeding successfully. 

Since 2019 the Trust has been using juveniles sourced as eggs from Maungataniwha to re-establish a viable kiwi population on its neighbouring property, Pohokura. In February two male birds, Butch and Poi were released becoming the 199th and 200th Maungataniwha kiwi to be homed at Pohokura.

Both Maungataniwha and Pohokura Forests have received aerial 1080 control operations on a regular basis.

“Overlay this with an effective mustelid trapping programme and intensive Operation Nest Egg work and you will get a viable, surviving and thriving kiwi population out the other end; one that can help populate other forests,” says Kiwi Conservation specialist Ms Tamsin Ward-Smith. 

“FLRT has thrown everything at this work and it’s reassuring to see the results. Reaching the 200 target for Pohokura is a huge milestone – the more kiwi released, the more kiwi that will benefit from predator control, and the quicker the population will grow”. 

Pohokura lies to the north of State Highway 5 between Taupo and Napier and adjoins the privately-owned Ngatapa Station (9,515ha), the Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tāne Conservation Park and the Waipunga Conservation Area. Together with the Trust’s other properties at Maungataniwha, these properties form a contiguous 100,000 ha swathe of the central North Island where kiwi conservation is a priority. 

Re-establishing kiwi at Pohokura supports the long-term goal of the national Kiwi Recovery Plan: to reach 100,000 kiwi by 2030 through growing populations of all kiwi species by at least two percent a year, restoring them to their former distribution and maintaining their genetic diversity. 

In addition to the Maungataniwha Kiwi Project the Trust runs a series of native flora and fauna regeneration projects. These include a drive to increase the wild-grown population of Kakabeak (Clianthus maximus), an extremely rare type of shrub, and the re-establishment of native plants and forest on 4,000 hectares currently, or until recently, under pine.

About the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust

The Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust was established in 2006 to provide direction and funding for the restoration of threatened species of fauna and flora, and to restore the ngahere mauri (forest lifeforce) in native forests within the Central North Island.

It runs eight main regeneration and restoration projects, involving native New Zealand flora and fauna, on three properties in the central North Island. It also owns a property in the South Island’s Fiordland National Park.

Photo supplied.

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