Breeding hopes go with kiwi

MATT BOWEN
Last updated 05:00 20/11/2012
MATT BOWEN/Fairfax NZ

Two kiwis are released at Maungatautari Ecological Island as part of a breeding programme to increase the endangered birds gene diverstity and population.

 Mark Lammas
BRUCE MERCER/Fairfax NZ
LITTLE BEAN: Leo Garland brings out the second kiwi.

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Imagine there being so many western brown kiwi in Maungatautari Ecological Island's main enclosure that up to 100 a year were exported to stop overpopulation.

That's the dream, and yesterday it came one step closer to reality.

Blackbean and Bluegrass, two kiwi chicks taken from wild Waimarino Forest near Ohakune, were released at the "keyhole" on Bill and Sue Garland's 400-hectare Rahiri Farm, which rises up the mountain's western flank to the predator-proof fence.

Thirty Roto-o-Rangi School students and almost as many parents watched as kiwi handler Mark Lammas pulled Blackbean from his temporary home.

The little kiwi was the nervy star of the tiny show in the pristine pest-free bush. The kids adored him (or her, nobody knows yet). Every one got a touch.

Fellow handler Nola Griggs-Tamaki measured Blackbean's beak, weighed it, then checked its eyes, ears and other parts for signs of ill health, before placing it in a burrow.

Bluegrass' new home was a short walk away.

The pair are part of a tightly managed import and export programme to ensure there's sufficient genetic diversity in the main enclosure's population.

"We're going to be a shining light for the recovery of western brown kiwi," Mr Lammas said.

Blackbean and Bluegrass are number 15 and 16 in a release programme that started in August and is expected to reach 30 genetically unique individuals, or "founders" by March next year.

Mr Lammas said it's estimated that in 10-20 years they would have bred to the point of capacity.

"It's estimated that we should have about 300 breeding pair on the main mountain. That will then mean we'll have to start pulling birds off, possibly in their hundreds, just to keep the main stock healthy, otherwise we'll get over-population stress."

The gene trade with other populations is geared to ensure there's sufficient diversity to avoid a "genetic bottleneck" and inbreeding.

Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust general manager Malcolm Anderson said nationally only a few western brown kiwi remain, in a few scattered locations, around Taranaki, Whanganui, Tongariro and King Country, he said.

"We're a kohanga kiwi. So we raise kiwi on our mountain and we give them to other places and we get that genetic diversity we need back from them."

Mr Anderson hopes the genes of Waimarino Forest's Blackbean and Bluegrass will join the resident population at the earliest opportunity.

The pair have radio transmitters attached above the knee and they'll have regular health checkups until they're fully grown.

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