A kiwi history: How the plight of the kiwi came to be

Our friends the bees need support, but so too do our friends the kiwi. That’s why Save the Kiwi is one of our Harmony Plan partners who we work closely with, as kaitiakitanga of Aotearoa to help protect and preserve nature.

As we approach the one-year anniversary of our partnership with Save the Kiwi, what better way to celebrate than to send one person and a friend to gift a name to a kiwi and release it into the wild?

We’re asking New Zealanders to tell us what they would name a kiwi and why. The winner and a friend will be flown to Auckland to release that kiwi into their natural habitat on Rotoroa Island. This is an experience that very few people will ever experience!

Read on to learn more about our friends, the kiwi.

The kiwi has been adopted as a beloved and iconic symbol of Aotearoa New Zealand, but their history is one of struggle and survival. You would be hard pressed to find a New Zealander who doesn’t know what a kiwi is, speaking volumes to how much we love this flightless character. These quirky and unique birds have been around for a long time, but it wasn't until colonisation in New Zealand that their population began to decline.

The first recorded encounter with a kiwi by a European was in 1811, and in the 1840s kiwi started to be exported overseas. Early European settlers in New Zealand hunted kiwi for their meat and feathers, which were used in fashion and decoration. By the early 1900s, kiwi had become so rare that they were protected by law.

Despite protection, the kiwi population continued to decline due to habitat loss and the introduction of predators such as stoats, ferrets, rats, dogs, cats, and possums, all of which were introduced to New Zealand and have since decimated native bird populations. These introduced animals preyed on kiwi eggs and chicks, further reducing the population. In the 1970s, conservation efforts were stepped up, and several initiatives were put in place to protect kiwi and their habitat. These included predator control, habitat restoration, and captive breeding programs, with the intention of rebuilding what had been lost.

One of the most successful conservation programs yet has been the establishment of kiwi sanctuaries, which are predator-free areas designed to provide a safe haven for kiwi. These have been set up publicly by the Department of Conservation, but also privately, with efforts such as Makino Station, a conservation area created in collaboration between Comvita and Save the Kiwi, providing a predator free home for 22 kiwi. These sanctuaries have been instrumental in the recovery of kiwi populations, and some have even reported a tenfold increase in numbers, showing progress is possible.

Another key turning point for kiwi conservation has been the use of technology, including radio transmitters, cameras, and sound recorders, to monitor and study kiwi in the wild. These tools have enabled researchers to gain a better understanding of kiwi behaviour, breeding patterns, and habitat requirements, which has led to more effective conservation strategies. An improvement in conservation technology has also led to greater pest management, which stands to benefit not only kiwi, but all of New Zealand's native wildlife.

Despite these efforts, kiwi remain endangered, with approximately 68,000 birds left in the wild. However, the future looks bright for kiwi, thanks to ongoing conservation efforts and public awareness campaigns run by organisations such as Save the Kiwi. New Zealand has pledged to become predator-free by 2050, which will be a significant step towards not just protecting kiwi and other native species but allowing them to thrive.

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