Kiwi held in captivity in New Zealand play two important roles.

They are charismatic ambassadors for the species. And they are important for kiwi recovery, allowing researchers and managers to hone captive management skills and techniques. One of these is the extremely successful Operation Nest Egg.

Who is involved?

Captive management is a cooperative effort between the Department of Conservation (DOC) and the captive community. The captive coordinator is Kiwi Recovery Group member Todd Jenkinson. The captive management programme is supported by the professional association of the Zoo & Aquarium Association (ZAA) website with the strategic direction of the programme outlined in the Captive Management Plan for kiwi (2018–2023). The plan’s long-term aim is to have a genetically and demographically robust population,  with the primary purpose of advocacy that can additional assist with targeted releases to the wild.

Which kiwi are held in captivity?

Brown kiwi is the only managed species. The aim of New Zealand’s captive programme is to sustainably manage just one geographic type of brown kiwithe eastern brown kiwi—in a sustainable professionally managed population of between 100-110 birds at 15 captivity facilities. Because trying to breed multiple species in captivity dilutes the conservation effort, the very few remaining captive great spotted kiwi and little spotted kiwi are being phased out. Conservation programmes in the wild are more effective in recovering these species. Operation Nest Egg is an intensive ‘head-start’ programme where wild eggs are hatched in captive facilities and chicks are re-released to managed wild sites.   It has been a valuable tool for assisting the recovery of the critically endangered Haast tokoeka and rowi on the West Coast of the South Island.  ONE has also been used to supplement wild brown kiwi populations on the North Island.

Caring for kiwi

Best practice kiwi captive husbandry and welfare is available in the Brown Kiwi Husbandry Manual (Version 3 Updated 2015).  A list of places you can see kiwi in captivity is here.

‘Firsts’ for captive kiwi

The first recorded captive-held kiwi was in 1851, when female brown kiwi arrived at the Zoological Society of London.  They lived for several years and produced eggs. In 1912, a wild-caught brown kiwi first appeared on records at Wellington Zoo. The first record of a brown kiwi chick hatching in captivity was in 1945, at the Hawke’s Bay Acclimatisation Society’s game farm, near Napier. The first kiwi to be displayed in nocturnal houses were brown kiwi, displayed at Auckland Zoo and Otorohanga in 1972. The first artificially incubated full-term brown kiwi egg hatched at Otorohanga, in 1977. In the 1990s, Operation Nest Egg was first used to bring wild-laid eggs into captivity. In 1995, the first release of sub-adult brown kiwi was made, and, in 1996/97, the first wild rowi eggs were successfully incubated in captivity and the chicks released to the wild.
A more complete history is in the Captive Management Plan for Kiwi.

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