Kiwi killers get away with it

The Northland Age - - Local News - By Peter de Graaf

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.

PIC­TURE / PETER DE GRAAF

Warn­ing signs aimed at dog own­ers don’t al­ways pro­tect the na­tional bird.

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