Kiwi killers get away with it
No one will be prosecuted over the deaths of six kiwi in the Bay of Islands last year, DNA tests having failed to identify which dogs were responsible.
Residents on Hansen Rd, on the Purerua Peninsula, found five dead kiwi over a period of a few days in February last year. One more was found later by a Department of Conservation ranger in the same area.
The bodies were sent to Massey University, where experts found the birds’ injuries were caused by dog attacks. Samples were taken from their wounds and feathers and sent to an Auckland laboratory for DNA analysis, along with saliva samples from 16 dogs owned by two people in the Hansen Rd area.
They included 14 working dogs, one pet and one pig dog.
Correspondence obtained by the Northern Advocate under the Official Information Act shows an exact DNA match for one dog, known only as Dog #03, was found on a bird labelled Kiwi #01. Three other birds were thought to have DNA from the same dog, but the samples had become so degraded that the results were inconclusive.
Complicating the matter was the presence of saliva from another dog, most likely Dog #01, on Kiwi #01.
An email from a senior DoC ranger to the laboratory stated the identity of both dogs involved in the attack would need to be “100 per cent confirmed” to be certain of a successful prosecution.
For that reason, and because of the cost of ongoing DNA tests, which had by then reached $6000, charges against the dog’s owner were dropped.
Sue Reed-Thomas, DoC’s Northland operations manager, said further DNA analysis was inconclusive, so the dog or dogs responsible could not be positively identified. The charges had been withdrawn.
No verified kiwi deaths had occurred in the area since then.
Ms Reed-Thomas said everyone related to the inquiry had assisted DoC with its inquiries, but the emails obtained under the OIA suggest tension between the department and the dog owners, or the dog owners’ employers.
The emails were heavily redacted before being released so the full train of events is unclear. At one stage the owner offered to cover the cost of further dog DNA tests, but when DoC rangers arrived to take fresh saliva samples they were not allowed to be present while the samples were taken, so they could not verify which dogs they came from. As a result the second batch of samples could not be used to confirm the first.
A Massey University pathology report showed the dead kiwi comprised three females and two males, ranging in weight from 1.5 to 2.5kg. All but one had been in good condition prior to the attack. The sixth kiwi was not submitted for examination because it was too badly decomposed.
The six deaths were the most in one spate since at least eight kiwi were killed by dogs in the Wharau Rd area, near Kerikeri, in 2015.
Warning signs aimed at dog owners don’t always protect the national bird.