The Department of Conservation (DOC) and Te Rūnanga o Makaawhio are inviting the public to meet some of New Zealand’s rarest kiwi before they are released from Rona Island back into Haast Tokoeka Sanctuary.

“The chicks are an important addition to the remaining small wild population that numbers between only 400-500 birds,” DOC South Westland Senior Ranger Inge Bolt says.

The young adult Haast tokoeka have been raised on predator-free Rona Island, which is a kiwi creche in Lake Manapouri.

Inge Bolt says without protection from stoats, the majority of kiwi chicks die before reaching adulthood.

“Only Haast tokoeka which have reached a weight of 1.6kg will make the final move back to their place of birth. At this weight, they are better able to fend off attack from stoats.”

The release is the culmination of many hours of dedicated work that started with DOC rangers monitoring nests and collecting eggs from wild kiwi in the Haast Tokoeka Sanctuary last spring/summer.

The eggs were incubated, hatched and young chicks nurtured at the West Coast Wildlife Centre in Franz Josef, then transferred to the fenced enclosure of predator-free Orokonui Ecosanctuary in Dunedin, where they learned how to feed themselves.

The chicks were finally transferred to Rona Island, which is overseen by the Pomona-Rona Island Trust. Life on the island prepared them for a foraging future, allowing them to grow in a safe environment free from stoats.

“It’s a very exciting time for iwi, DOC and the local community to celebrate this achievement of growing the Haast Tokoeka population, New Zealand’s rarest kiwi. The multistage process involved many people, organisations, volunteers and businesses working together for the benefit of this kiwi population and for our future generations,” Inge Bolt says.

The event will be held on Thursday 18 October at the Heartland World Heritage Hotel in Haast, starting at 10.30am. The event is subject to suitable weather.