The day started with the threat of rain in the air but that certainly didn’t dampen the spirits of the group of people waiting to board their water taxi at Sandspit Wharf. They waited in excited anticipation of the day ahead. The day the first kiwi of the season to hatch as part of Operation Nest Egg was to be released onto the predator-free kiwi crèche Motuora Island.
Seeing a kiwi in the wild is a special experience; one that not very many New Zealanders have, with kiwi being so rare. A buzz went through the group as the Auckland Zoo keeper in charge of Akitō, the kiwi chick being released, arrived with the telltale box.
The clouds parted on the thirty minute trip over to Motuora Island, providing a sunny welcome to one of Auckland’s kiwi crèche islands. Operation Nest Egg is one of a number of programmes used to protect kiwi and halt their decline. It takes kiwi eggs from vulnerable areas, where predators are prevalent, and hatches them in one of a number of specialist hatch facilities across the country. Once the chicks are feeding well, they are transferred to a kiwi crèche facility, such as Motuora Island, where they stay until they reach 1kg in weight. At that point, they are better able to defend themselves against predators and are transferred back to mainland kiwi habitat where they can establish their own territory, find a mate and breed more kiwi.
After a short briefing about the island and the plan for the day, the group walked up the hill taking its precious cargo to a ready-made burrow, where Akitō could rest after his* travels and get himself acquainted with his new surroundings.
Akitō was removed gently from the box by accredited kiwi handler, Michelle Impey, Executive Director of Kiwis for kiwi, and held for a few minutes so that the invited guests could take some photos and soak in the experience of seeing a kiwi chick up-close. It was the first time that many of the group had seen a live kiwi, except in a captive facility, and you could feel the excitement in the air. Even the most popular celebrity would be unlikely to be the object of so many photos in such a short space of time!
When everyone had had a chance to take photos, and before Akitō became anxious or stressed, he was gently placed into the burrow, where he sat looking out at us for a few more minutes before we covered him up and left him to get some sleep before his first big night on the island.
The return journey was filled with excited chatter as people marvelled at what they had just witnessed. It wasn’t just the experience of being able to see a kiwi chick, who was absolutely gorgeous, but also the opportunity to have been part of such an important kiwi conservation programme.
Kiwi are special birds and hold a special place in people’s hearts. The opportunity to see one in such close proximity is a privilege that the people who were there to wish Akitō well on his big adventure will cherish forever.
To finish the day perfectly, the island ranger captured Akitō on a night-vision camera that evening as he came out of the burrow to have a look for some food and check out his new home. He seemed to have settled in quickly and be quite happy with life.
To support Kiwis for kiwi in continuing Operation Nest Egg and other kiwi conservation programmes, please make a donation. Thank you.
*A kiwi’s gender is normally identified through DNA testing, which Akitō had not undergone at the time of his/her release so we’ve referred to him/her as a ‘he’ for the time-being.