Stewart Island dogs trained to avoid kiwi
Domestic dogs on Stewart Island will be trained to leave the kiwi population in peace.
The island is home to an estimated 25,000 kiwi, and dogs are one of the main threats to the rare bird's survival.
The Department of Conservation, Stewart Island/Rakiura Community and Environment Trust and Kiwis for Kiwi are teaming up to run a kiwi avoidance training course for dogs on Stewart Island on Sunday.
DOC ranger and dog owner Di Morris said dog owners on Stewart Island were already responsible for their pets but there was always more that could be done to protect kiwi.
The avoidance training was a response to the release of kiwi at Ackers Point, near the Oban township on Stewart Island, earlier this year, Ms Morris said.
"Kiwi are coming into our backyard.
"That is something really special and unique."
The training was not a "sure-fire fix" but was another tool to keep kiwi safe and in the community, she said.
The training will be run by Wendy Sporle from Kiwis for Kiwi and experienced Whangarei kiwi ranger Pete Graham.
Dogs were the primary predators for adult kiwi and the issue of kiwi being killed by dogs needed to be addressed, Ms Sporle said.
"It is not the dog's fault. Instinct means it is hard for a dog to ignore the strong smell of a kiwi and its movement," she said.
"Dogs don't eat kiwi, they grab them and shake them. This breaks their bones and more often than not results in death."
Avoidance training was not a silver bullet but on Stewart Island where kiwi roamed free, their chances of survival would increase if a dog was trained to leave them alone, Ms Sporle said.
During the training the dog owner walked their dog, usually not on a lead, past a few different props - such as a stuffed kiwi, objects with kiwi scent, or dead kiwi.
If the dog showed an interest in the objects, it got a short sharp shock from a special collar. That made it yelp, and the dog learnt that those objects were something to stay away from, Ms Sporle said.
The dog was then walked past similar props and, if it avoided them, was certified as having shown consistent avoidance behaviour, she said.
Ms Sporle and Mr Graham are making the journey from the far north and during their time on Stewart Island will be training islander Sandy King to run future and refresher kiwi avoidance courses.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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