Stewart Island to benefit from bigger kiwi numbers

Visitors to Stewart Island will have an even greater chance of crossing paths with a rare resident - the kiwi - after the transfer of 10 kiwi from Ulva Island.

Five of the threatened species were transferred from the small Ulva Island kiwi population to Ackers Point on Stewart Island yesterday, with more birds to be moved soon.

The transfer of the nation's most famous flightless bird is part of the Department of Conservation's partnership with Air New Zealand through the Rakiura Biodiversity Project.

Stewart Island is well known for its strong kiwi population but near Halfmoon Bay the population has been relatively sparse.

This was a result of historical deforestation and predation by roaming dogs and feral cats.

However, the regeneration of the kiwi's natural habitat and stricter dog control has enabled an attempt to boost the kiwi population near the Halfmoon Bay community.

DOC Southern Islands and Murihiku area manager Andy Roberts said the project aimed to increase the kiwi population in the bush surrounding the community and ultimately the Rakiura Great Walk.

The transferred kiwi would hopefully boost the base breeding population in the area the start and finish of the track passes through and create an even spread of breeding age birds on Stewart Island, he said.

"The opportunity to see kiwi in the wild would be a prime drawcard for the great walk and beneficial to the wider Stewart Island community."

The project also has a scientific purpose. Biodiversity ranger and project co-ordinator Al Check said the same number of kiwi would be transferred from Stewart Island and be resettled on Ulva Island.

The kiwi from Stewart Island would add much needed genetic biodiversity to the Ulva Island kiwi.

"There are about 25,000 kiwi on Stewart Island and only 30 to 40 on Ulva," he said.

Air New Zealand sponsorship and community chief James Gibson was on hand to be part of the transfer, and he said the project was a key part of the national carrier's conservation ethos.

Investing in this conservation project was a natural fit for the airline, he said.

"Air New Zealand has strong environmental aspirations so it makes sense from a conservation perspective and a commercial one.

"Supporting these biodiversity projects encourages richer bird life on New Zealand's signature walking tracks and improves the overall experience for domestic and international tourists and the communities where these tourism activities occur."

Stewart Island councillor Bruce Ford was among the excited crowd at the release and said increasing the number of kiwi would, hopefully, be even more reason for people to visit the island.

The Southland Times