Surgery saves kiwi with challenged bill

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 11:30 06/03/2014
Kiwi with underbite
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TOUGH LITTLE TIAKI: "He compensated for his disability by scooping food up sideways, but he couldn't seal his bill properly and always had a mouth full of soil."

Kiwi with underbite
Supplied
UNDERBITE: About 5mm of the kiwi's lower bill has since been carefully trimmed off.

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A rare West Coast kiwi with a wonky bill has a top chance of survival thanks to delicate surgery to fix its underbite.

Tiaki, meaning "to protect" or "to care for" in Maori, was collected in November as an egg from Okarito kiwi sanctuary and incubated at the West Coast Wildlife Centre in nearby Franz Josef Glacier.

Halfway through the Rowi chick's six-day hatching, it began struggling to progress so a small hole was put in its shell to check what was going wrong.

Centre staff swiftly noticed its lower bill protruded longer than its upper bill, which meant it was unable to close it properly.

Kiwi husbandry manager Kim Bryan-Walker said Tiaki managed to hatch on January 9 but its underbite played havoc with feeding and it failed to thrive.

"He compensated for his disability by scooping food up sideways but he couldn't seal his bill properly and always had a mouth full of soil.

"He was strange looking and it made him very endearing but it was a problem that needed to be fixed long-term."

She said kiwi had nostrils and a vibration sensor at the tip of their upper bill to detect insects underground when probing, so shortening its lower bill would not impact on those unique abilities.

When 11 days old, the flightless bird was flown to Palmerston North for surgery at Massey University's Wildbase, the country's only dedicated wildlife hospital.

While there, about 5mm of its lower bill was carefully trimmed off and it was reshaped to snugly fit its upper bill, which was hooked at the tip.

Bryan-Walker said only a handful of kiwi had such surgery, but Tiaki's operation had proved successful.

"He's eating very well now."

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