Rare kiwi fly in to Wellington

NEW HOME: This juvenile rowi kiwi  was one of 20 released to Mana Island.
NEW HOME: This juvenile rowi kiwi was one of 20 released to Mana Island.

Twenty of the rarest species of kiwi have been flown to Mana Island - the first time critically endangered rowi have been in the North Island for more than a century.

Twenty juvenile rowi were flown by helicopter to the predator free haven this morning.

With an estimated population of just 180 in 1996, rowi have been brought back from the brink of extinction with numbers slowly increasing to nearly 400 thanks to the efforts of the Department of Conservation and the BNZ Save the Kiwi Trust.

The department removed 20 rowi eggs from Okarito forest on the West Coast of the South Island and after they were hatched at the West Coast Wildlife Centre in Franz Joseph, the chicks were raised to maturity on predator-free Motuara Island in the Marlborough Sounds.

The 20 young rowi, or Okarito brown kiwi, were transferred by New Zealand Air Force helicopters from Ngati Toa Domain to Mana Island this morning.

DOC kiwi ranger Duncan Kay said the helicopter flight had probably been a bit confusing for the young kiwi but they seemed pretty relaxed when staff got their out of their boxes and they went into a burrow on the island after initially being a bit hesitant.

The windy, wet weather conditions were similar to West Coast conditions, he said.

Sending a juvenile population to Mana Island, rowi will be able to breed with much less human interference and the absence of predators should provide better breeding conditions. Less competition for territories should ensure Mana Island rowi produce a high number of chicks.

BNZ Save The Kiwi Trust chief executive director Michelle Impey said saving the critically endangered rowi had been a priority.

''At one point it looked like the rowi decline was a tragedy in the making. Operation Nest Egg has been a vital tool bringing the population back to a point where the species has a future. The Mana project can help us achieve this,'' Ms Impey said.

Contact Kay Blundell
Kapiti reporter
Email: kay.blundell@dompost.co.nz

The Dominion Post