Marina Erakovic, New Zealand’s top women’s professional tennis player, has taken a very keen interest in “ Racquet” the noisy kiwi that it the latest addition to the West Coast Wildlife Centre in Franz Josef.

Marina recently tweeted about her interest in helping protect and preserve kiwi (recently became the Kiwis for kiwi ambassador) and made a surprise visit to Franz Josef this week to meet the kiwi team at the West Coast Wildlife Centre.

Kiwi Ranger Catherine Roughton guided Marina and her family through the facility and introduced the tennis star to the young kiwi chicks that have recently hatched. Marina was delighted to be so close to a young kiwi. “It really inspires and motivates me to want to help save kiwi and I’m really excited to be an ambassador for Kiwis for kiwi “ said Marina.

“Racquet” weighed just 430grams on arrival and took 4.5 days to hatch and was brought directly from the Okarito Kiwi sanctuary by the Department of Conservation.

“ We kept Racquet cozy and warm in one of our incubators for the first 2 days while Racquet learned to crouch and shuffle “ says Kiwi Husbandry Manager Kim Bryan-Walker. “Racquet has grown to be a really vocal and active chick and will stay in a brooder at the West Coast Wildlife Centre for one month before moving out into the pre-release pens in Franz Josef.”

Marina showed a great deal of interest during the Backstage Pass Tour and was so keen to learn and educate herself about the Kiwi recovery programme and the plight of the endangered birds.
The 2014/15 hatching season for two of the world’s rarest kiwi, the Rowi and the Haast tokoeka, looks like being one of the best on record at the West Coast Wildlife Centre, with 27 chicks hatched too date compared to 21 hatched at the same time last year.

“Since opening four years ago we have successfully hatched over 190 kiwi chicks and with less than 725 left in the wild today (of the 2 species we focus on), this is really making a significant conservation difference ,”says Director Richard Benton.

“This makes us now the largest kiwi hatching facility in the South Island and the 2nd largest in New Zealand” says Richard Benton.

October is the annual Save The Kiwi month raising funds through the Kiwis for kiwi Trust with this year’s theme around not letting “ kids grow up without kiwis”.

“It has been a really exciting hatching season” says Kiwi Husbandry Manager Kim Bryan-Walker “ and we are expecting to successfully hatch over 60 chicks this season. “The hatching season for these rarest of kiwi started late July and the final chick to hatch is likely to be around the first week of February next year. “

The West Coast Wildlife Centre is a successful public/private partnership with the Department of Conservation. Under BNZ Operation Nest Egg TM, kiwi eggs are rescued from the wild, hatched in captivity, and raised at “crèche sites” until the juveniles reach over one kilogram – the weight at which they are likely to be able to defend themselves from stoats, and when they can be returned to the mainland sanctuaries.

Rowi and Haast tokoeka are the 2 rarest kiwi in the world, teetering on the edge of extinction with less than 400 of each remain. Rowi are found in the Okarito Kiwi Sanctuary near Franz Josef and the Haast tokoeka are found only in the remote Haast Kiwi Sanctuary.

The West Coast Wildlife Centre won a Supreme award at the West Coast Leading Lights Awards in Greymouth and was judged by Lonely Planet as one of its top 12 new favorite places to visit in New Zealand. It is open to the general public from 8.30am every day of the year and visitors can go “behind the scenes” to see for themselves the kiwi hatching and rearing facilities and meet the dedicated team of 3 kiwi rangers.

• Numerous businesses, local people and visitors to New Zealand have proudly supported the West Coast Wildlife Centre’s kiwi sponsorship program, which helps the West Coast Wildlife Centre to fund purchasing kiwi food, incubation and brooder room equipment, veterinary products and build new facilities.

“We really value the support we get for our hatching facility from the West Coast community and beyond ” says Operations Manager Lisa Stevenson – and “ we encourage any visitors to Franz Josef to drop in and see for themselves this really exciting kiwi facility on the West Coast.”