Two of the rarest kiwi in the world have been fondly celebrated as they passed through Picton.
Conservation Department ranger Iain Graham let children and adults stroke the two young rowi kiwi, of which only 400 survive, at the Dolphin Watch and Ecotours office in Picton on Monday night.
The chicks were returning from an eight-month "island holiday" on Motuara Island, one of the department's native reserves in Queen Charlotte Sound, to give them time to put on weight to protect them from predators when returned to the wild at Franz Josef.
About 50 chicks live on the island which DOC considers its "main kiwi creche island".
Fourteen adult kiwi are stationed on nearby Blumine Island to encourage them to breed as they seemed to have inhibitions about getting intimate back at their southern home.
"The risk with such a small population is that when it gets up to 600 or 800 there will be a genetic bottleneck caused by the inbreeding," Mr Graham said.
"We want them to help widen the pool and put their genes into it."
DOC estimated only 250 rowi kiwi were alive in 1992. Today, there are about 400 thanks to the BNZ Operation Nest Egg, the Kiwis for Kiwi Trust and the department, he said.
"Rowi used to be found from Franz Josef in the South Island to Wairarapa in the North Island.
"They've been pushed to about a 14,000 hectare glacial terrain at Franz Josef because of predators and changing land use. There, they're stuck between the Southern Alps and the wild West Coast beach."
The primary threat to the kiwi is stoats and they can defend themselves only with the claws on their feet.
"They're pretty mean to each other as well, they're very territorial."
- The Marlborough Express