Kiwi release planned for Waiheke and Pakihi island

Very early in January whilst visiting a number of bird islets in the Hauraki Gulf with John McCallum, Ewen Cameron and Mark Bellingham, I was asked by John whether I could somehow assist him in getting permission from DoC to release kiwi on his privately owned Pakihi Island.

Pakihi and Karamaramu have been in the ownership of the McCallum family for nearly 100 years.  John is a businessman/farmer and also a trained naturalist.

In recent years John has managed to remove all rats and stoats from Pakihi (114 ha).

The kiwi request seemed a rather tall order but I promised I would give it some thought. I was also aware that businessman/conservationists Rob Fenwick had also been trying for some years to get permission from DoC for a kiwi transfer to his 380ha Waiheke property.  DoC had assessed these applications in terms of the nearest ‘pure’ population of North Island brown kiwi – which is in the Coromandel.  Unfortunately, the Coromandel population was considered too small to provide birds for transfer.

However, I was also aware that just ‘next door’ on Ponui Island (1795ha) a hybrid population of North Island brown kiwi (Apteryx mantelli) was so successful that it was exceeding its carrying capacity.  Unfortunately, because this population was considered genetically ‘mixed’ it appeared to have been discounted by DoC.  The population was founded by 14 birds released on the island by the former Wildlife Service in 1963 (the ultimate origins of these birds was from Taranaki and the Hokianga).  That the population is so successful (in fact arguably the most successful in the country) is a puzzle for scientists given the island is believed to have a full range of predator pests present.

In May this year after the successful transfer of bellbirds to Motuihe and Waiheke Islands by the ARC, I proposed a ‘consortium’ approach to John and Rob which would be given official backing and credibility by being joined by the ARC.  The source for the transfer I proposed should not be the Coromandel but from the nearby island of Ponui.

A meeting was held in July with all the principle parties and DoC.  Dr Tim Lovegrove and myself from the ARC.

At the meeting Conservator Sean Goddard and senior manager Jonathan Miles Protected Species Manager agreed to the proposal in principle.  ARC (Tim Lovegrove) is managing the transfer application.   One of the conditions would be approval of the landowner.  Ponui has been farmed by the pioneering Chamberlin family for around 100 years.  Massey University Albany Campus has been undertaking intensive studies of the kiwi in bush areas owned by farmer Peter Chamberlin.  Peter is supportive of the kiwi transfer provided it has support from the Massey scientists.

In addition to the Fenwick Reserve and Pakihi Island it is hoped we can also release kiwi at Whakanewha Regional Park but that would be on the basis of strict enforcement of the dogs-on-leash rule.

I am very pleased to say that after initial discussion with Lesley Smith, the president of the Waiheke Dog Owners Group (DOG) the reaction to the kiwi release idea has been very positive.

Clearly, more formal consultation will be needed with Waiheke dog owners led by DOG.  Strictly speaking all we would have to do would be to enforce the already agreed park management plan rules – but this proposal really needs the whole-hearted buy-in from dog owners.  As has been explained if there is any risk then the kiwis will not be coming to Whakanewha. 

However, the reaction is that Waiheke dog-owners would love to see our national bird returned to Waiheke and will fully cooperate in this enterprise.

The kiwi is our national bird.  We even call ourselves kiwi but it’s a sad fact of life that very few New Zealanders have heard kiwi in the wild – let alone see one.  I am hoping that the release of kiwi on Waiheke will enhance Waiheke’s natural environment, provide a tourist drawcard and enrich Waiheke people’s quality of life.

Unfortunately, the project has become a runner just as we are all about to disappear into the Super City.  It is my hope however, that ARC heritage scientists can continue with this application after joining the Auckland Council to enable a transfer of kiwi from Ponui to Pakihi and Waiheke early next March.

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