Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust passes 500 kiwi milestone

A leading Hawke’s Bay conservation trust has reached a kiwi milestone by releasing its 500th kiwi back into the bush. Over the weekend (28 and 29 May) the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust released nine young birds into the bush at its Pohokura property in central Hawke’s Bay, one of which was number 500.

Kiwi chicks from eggs collected at the Trust’s Maungataniwha forest in northern Hawke’s Bay are reared at protected sites until they are large enough to fend for themselves in the wild. Four of the nine chicks released over the weekend came from the Napier Kiwi Creche, run by Save the Kiwi, and five were raised at the National Kiwi Hatchery in Rotorua.

“We think it’s brilliant that this group of nine birds can collectively wear the title of our 500th kiwi,” said Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust chairman Simon Hall. “And that these two incredibly important partners of ours can share the honour.”

The low-key event was attended by Trust staff and volunteers, and by Tamsin Ward-Smith of Save the Kiwi.

“It’s important when we reach milestones such as these to recognise the amazing efforts of all the groups and people we work with and depend on,” said Mr Hall. “We’ve been doing this for 16 years now and over that time contacts have turned into partnerships, and partnerships into enduring friendships.”

The Trust’s partners include Save the Kiwi and the Department of Conservation, which run the Operation Nest Egg kiwi conservation initiative, The National Kiwi Hatchery in Rotorua, Napier Kiwi Creche, The Cape Sanctuary near Napier, and Ngāti Pahauwera Development Trust, the trust’s mana whenua partner.

Mr Hall also drew attention to the many volunteers who make the Trust’s work with kiwi possible, particularly those who transport eggs and birds to where they need to be and those who spend long cold nights in the bush counting kiwi calls to help determine population numbers.

The Trust has been successful in re-establishing a viable, self-sustaining kiwi population at Maungataniwha and plans to repeat the exercise at Pohokura, which has the potential to support as many as 500 breeding pairs within the species’ natural geographic range. It aims to release up to 200 kiwi there by 2024. The first, the 300th bird resulting from the Trust’s conservation work, was released in 2019.

The Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust delivered a record 94 viable eggs from its Maungataniwha property to the National Kiwi Hatchery in Rotorua during the 2021/2022 egg-lifting season. Of these, 60 have been released at Pohokura so far. There are still another 15 being reared at the Napier Kiwi Creche and the National Kiwi Hatchery in Rotorua.

Re-establishing kiwi at Pohokura supports the long-term goal of the national Kiwi Recovery Plan; to reach 100,000 kiwi by 2030 through growing populations of all kiwi species by at least two percent a year, restoring them to their former distribution and maintaining their genetic diversity.

Eastern brown kiwi are the least managed and fastest declining of the four regional populations. Establishing a population of around 100 pairs within five years at Pohokura will make a significant contribution towards the recovery of this species, Mr Hall said.

For the first three years a sample of kiwi released each year at Pohokura were fitted with radio-transmitters so that their dispersal and survival could be monitored.

Mr Hall said he hoped Pohokura would ultimately help re-populate neighbouring areas with kiwi.

“Just as Maungataniwha can now be the source of kiwi to re-stock Pohokura, so we hope that ultimately Pohokura kiwi will make their way naturally to neighbouring areas such as the Whirinaki Conservation Forest, which is also being made safe for them.”

Michelle Impey, executive director of Save the Kiwi, said the work the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust had done over the past 16 years was “incredible”.

“They are one of the most prolific contributors of eggs to Operation Nest Egg, and reaching the 500 milestone is a significant achievement both for them and for the future of the Eastern brown kiwi,” she said.

“Of the four North Island brown kiwi taxa (Northland, Coromandel, Western and Eastern), the Eastern brown needs the most support. So seeing such a successful project committed to the future of the kiwi in this region is incredibly encouraging.

“They have also done a huge amount of work on predator control and habitat restoration, both of which are essential yet frequently thankless tasks in kiwi conservation. The combination of all of this work has resulted in an accelerated growth of the kiwi population in this project area and it’s fantastic to see that the Trust is now reaping the rewards.

“Save the Kiwi is proud to work alongside Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust to boost the kiwi population in the eastern region.”

The Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust was established in 2006 to provide direction and funding for the restoration of threatened species of fauna and flora in native forests within the Central North Island. In addition to the Maungataniwha Kiwi Project the Trust runs a series of native flora and fauna regeneration projects. These include a drive to increase the wild-grown population of Kakabeak (Clianthus maximus), an extremely rare type of shrub.

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