Call to replace kiwi with a national bird that better represents far-flying New Zealanders

The Department of Conservation state the kiwi is a taōnga (treasure) to Maori, who have strong cultural, spiritual and ...
LAWRENCE SMITH/STUFF

The Department of Conservation state the kiwi is a taōnga (treasure) to Maori, who have strong cultural, spiritual and historic associations with kiwi.

It's time to ditch the kiwi as our national symbol and instead embrace a bird that can actually fly, an expert says.

Northern NZ Seabird Trust co-founder Chris Gaskin believes a more fitting emblem would be a seabird, more specifically, if he had to choose, a Buller's shearwater (Rako).

"Kiwis can be cute," Gaskin told a seabird forum. "​The label Kiwi will be hard to shake but I do believe seabirds demand our respect." 

Seabird-lovers are calling for the Buller shearwater to replace the kiwi as New Zealand's national icon.
SHAUN YEO/STUFF

Seabird-lovers are calling for the Buller shearwater to replace the kiwi as New Zealand's national icon.

As Kiwis were flightless, with a limited range of movement, it was time to choose a bird that better represented New Zealanders, he said.

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Speaking at the Taking Flight event at Auckland War Memorial Museum, he argued that our position between two oceans and our liking for overseas travel meant it made sense to have a seabird. 
Northern NZ Seabird Trust co-founder Chris Gaskin said the kiwi should to be replaced by a seabird - a Buller's ...
SUPPLIED

Northern NZ Seabird Trust co-founder Chris Gaskin said the kiwi should to be replaced by a seabird - a Buller's Shearwater (Rako).

Kiwis have had a bad rap in recent times.  In 2015 British comedian John Oliver said a kiwi looked less like a bird, and more like "a dumb, fat mouse who got its face stuck on a straw." 

Last year in a promotional video for a BBC television mini-series, Flight of the Conchords star Bret McKenzie paid tribute to the kiwi, calling it a hedgehog with a beak.

The lesser-known Buller's shearwater, referred to in the United States as the New Zealand shearwater, breed in the Poor Knights and are common around much of New Zealand. After breeding they journey to the North Pacific Ocean.  

The Buller's Shearwater, known in the United States as the New Zealand Shearwater, breed in the Poor Knights but are ...
SUPPLIED

The Buller's Shearwater, known in the United States as the New Zealand Shearwater, breed in the Poor Knights but are common around much of New Zealand.

The Department of Conservation say the kiwi is a taōnga (treasure) to Maori, who have strong cultural, spiritual and historic associations with it. 

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Department spokesperson Des Williams said while the kiwi had been an unofficial symbol for more than 100 years it had no official status as our national bird.

Conservationist and kiwi enthusiast Trevor Johnston questioned why anyone would want to change it.

The kiwi's sacred place in New Zealand life is being challenged.
DAVID UNWIN/STUFF

The kiwi's sacred place in New Zealand life is being challenged.

"I think it would be a great shame," Johnston said.  "If you change it to any other bird it's just not going to work, it'll be a huge psychological barrier for generations to get over."

Johnston was aware of the Buller's shearwater, but didn't think it was up to the challenge.  "Every bird is important, sure, but at the end of the day that's not a runner." 

AUT history professor Paul Moon said swapping birds would be difficult.  "There's such a lot of heritage with the kiwi it would be hard to convince people to abandon it," Moon said. 

Dr Paul Moon is Professor of History at the Faculty of Maori Development at AUT University. He has just released his ...
JASON OXENHAM/STUFF

Dr Paul Moon is Professor of History at the Faculty of Maori Development at AUT University. He has just released his latest book, Turning Points.

"It wouldn't just be a case of changing minds in New Zealand but changing how the word is being used overseas to identify New Zealanders.

"If there isn't a popular groundswell for change I don't think it's got any chance of, can I say it, taking off."

New Zealand has 86 of the world's 365 seabird breeds, with 36 breeding nowhere else in the world. 

In October 2016 Statistics NZ and the Ministry for the Environment released a report which found that 90 per cent of New Zealand's seabirds were at risk of extinction. This was due to degraded environment, global warming, pollution and ocean acidification. 

Gaskin said the utmost had to be done to protect seabirds.  

New Zealand wouldn't be the first nation to make an animal a symbol of the nation to help protect it. Last year the United States made the bison a national animal to prevent it going extinct and in 2013 the United Kingdom voted for declining hedgehogs to become its national emblem.

* Audio courtesy of Radio NZ

 - Sunday Star Times

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