White kiwi chick caps top season

23:06, May 25 2011
WHITE DELIGHT: Manukura, a rare white kiwi chick, hatched at Pukaha Mount Bruce.

The most successful kiwi breeding season in the history of New Zealand's national wildlife centre has ended on an extraordinary note with the surprise hatching of a white kiwi chick.

Hatched on May 1, the chick was number 13 of 14 kiwis successfully hatched at Pukaha Mount Bruce this breeding season, by far the most successful since 2003 when kiwi were reintroduced into the wild there.

Named Manukura by local iwi Rangitane o Wairarapa, the chick is not an albino but the rare progeny of kiwi that were transferred to Pukaha from Hauturu/Little Barrier Island last year.

"As far as we know, this is the first all-white chick to be hatched in captivity," Pukaha Mount Bruce Board chairman Bob Francis said.

"The intention of the transfer was to increase the kiwi gene pool at Pukaha and grow the population in the long term. The kiwi population on Little Barrier Island has birds with white markings and some white kiwi, but this was still a big surprise."

No white kiwi were brought to Pukaha.


"This first breeding season involving the Little Barrier kiwi has far exceeded expectations," Mr Francis said. "Faster breeding is exactly what was intended by the transfer, but we're blown away by the number of chicks produced so quickly."

Compared with this season's 14 chicks, between 2005 and 2010 a total of 10 chicks were hatched and returned to the forest.

Rangitane chief executive and Pukaha board member Jason Kerehi said tribal elders saw the white chick as a tohu, or sign, of new beginnings.

"Every now and then something extraordinary comes along to remind you of how special life is. While we're celebrating all 14 kiwi hatched this year, Manukura is a very special gift."

Meaning "of chiefly status", the Maori name Manukura also joins the Rangitane people with Ngati Manuhiri, the tribe from Little Barrier Island that helped transfer the 30 kiwi to Pukaha.

Kurahaupo was a Rangitane waka or canoe. Manu means something of high rank and also a bird. Kura means precious and also feather.

The chick is being hand-reared in Pukaha's new kiwi nursery, part of a recent $1.4 million upgrade of the nocturnal house.

Manukura will remain in the nursery until the end of May where visitors can view it in its nocturnal brooder box and see it being weighed daily at 2pm.

The chick will remain in captivity with other chicks at Pukaha for four to six months where, subject to its behaviour and welfare, it will be able to be viewed several times a week while being weighed.

When it is old enough to protect itself, it could potentially be released into the sanctuary.

However, Department of Conservation (DOC) rangers, who manage the kiwi programme at Pukaha, will ensure the best interests of the bird remain a priority.

"A white kiwi might really stand out making it more vulnerable," said DOC area manager Chris Lester. "We want to ensure that as many people as possible get a chance to see it, and that we keep it as safe as possible. We also recognise the need to take everything into account when deciding how best to keep Manukura safe."

Fertile kiwi eggs are retrieved from the 940-hectare native forest and incubated in the kiwi house until they hatch. Two of this season's chicks have already been released into the Pukaha forest and 12 chicks at various stages of growth are being held either in the kiwi house nursery or in a predator-proof outdoor enclosure. They will be released when they weigh approximately one kilogram and are large enough to defend themselves in the forest.

The Pukaha sanctuary is protected by more than a 1000 traps which are regularly monitored. Eight hundred of these are in the regional council buffer zones on farmland surrounding the reserve and 200 are in the reserve.

Following the loss of 12 adult kiwi in the Pukaha forest to ferret attacks last year, an extensive, independent review of pest control programme reaffirmed the regime and made several recommendations for improvement, all of which have been implemented.

Video of Manukura is at: vimeo.com/jetproductions/manukura.

Wairarapa News