Tens of thousands of our iconic kiwi birds dot the backyards, beaches and bush of our country. Element talks to Michelle Impey, executive director of the BNZ Save the Kiwi Trust, about the threats to the flightless bird this summer, and the ‘kiwi smile’.
What’s it like to hold a kiwi?
When you hold them, kiwi are like people. They all have different personalities. Some of them are quite stroppy and feisty, so you kind of go ‘ok good, you’re a fighter’. Some of them are quite passive and calm. We say people get the kiwi smile when they hold them. It’s a mixture of ‘oh my gosh – I can’t believe I’m holding this’ and an uncomfortable ‘I really don’t want to hurt this animal’.
Why are kiwi so unique?
The thing about kiwi that’s so unique is that kiwi roam in the backyard. Landowners can do hands-on work to make a difference, so it really becomes this very inclusive effort. For me, personally, the thing about kiwi is it has the iconic value; it gives us identity as New Zealanders. It’s also for a lot of people an introduction to ecosystem protection. So kiwi are the really obvious one that people will start out protecting because it’s easy to get support, it’s often easy to see them in your backyard. A lot of people will start out with kiwi but their intention is to restore the entire ecosystem in which the kiwi lives.
What kind of dangers will pop up for kiwi this summer, and how should we deal with them?
Dogs are usually the biggest issue. A roaming dog can wipe out a population of kiwi in a couple of weeks. If you’ve seen a dog shake a soft toy – that’s what they do with kiwi, and it doesn’t take much to kill them. We promote a) find out where you’re going, if there’s any kiwi in the area. Look on our website or check with the local Department of Conservation office. And b) if there are going to be Kiwi there, the best option is to not take your dog if you can’t handle it. Leave it with friends or family. If you do have to take it, always keep it under control on a lead. The big thing we try to promote is do everything you can to make sure your dog doesn’t encounter a kiwi. Any dog, any size, any breed can get the birds.
What are some beginner tips for people that like to protect their dog’s freedom?
There will be off-leash areas where people can take their dogs. It’s just being aware where there might be kiwi. Find an area where there isn’t protected wildlife and use that. If they are going to be in the bush and you aren’t sure, keep them on a lead.
What areas should we look out for?
People often think kiwi are tucked away into remote bush pockets, but they live anywhere. They’re in scrub, they’re on farmland, they’re on beaches, they’re in plantation. They’re very versatile and resilient when it comes to that.
For anyone inspired to help the little creatures, how can they get involved?
They can check out our website, savethekiwi.org.nz to make a donation to help out on the ground. They can get involved by volunteering on a kiwi project. And they can control their dogs!
Picture of Michelle by Ted Baghurst. Picture below by Stephanie Zollshan.