Kiwi coun­try

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’.

Element - - Community - In­ter­view by Hayley Han­nan

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.

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